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Economic credibility and ethical socialism

cover of book entitled 'The Credibility Deficit'Being the opposition, the Labour Party during their conference had at least the opportunity to discuss ideas that will fundamentally change the direction of their politics, and hopefully all politics, for some time to come – a privilege not able to be enjoyed, to the same extent, by the Tories this week as they go to conference with this message: ‘let’s stick out our dodgy economic policies out’.

During a conversation over the week with a friend, the notion of an ideas deficit came up – that is to say, though some ideas are being discussed as part of the realisation that the politics of New Labour must be put to rest, few people are stepping up to deliver those new ideas – Maurice Glasman being the exception here.

Before conference I had the impression Glasman was given the cold shoulder, but on a few occasions I was reminded that many people in the party still hold him in some esteem. The problem, thus, is not the ideas of Glasman that are contentious (though in my opinion they are still vague enough for many different, perhaps contradictory, constituencies to appeal to them), but his delivery – notable of which was his talk of incorporating the EDL into ideological discussions.

Creating ideas anew can make politics exciting, and this certainly is lacking today – but perhaps this is not the deficit we should worry about. The real task for us today is to unpack and fully realise ideas of old, the ones that have stood the test of time, that have been widely disseminated but little demonstrated. If this is the case, more should be done by policymakers to unpack the practical kernel of ethical socialism, the subject of much exciting debate in Labour circles today.

However not much beyond names and epithets are discussed in relation to ethical socialism, though the enthusiasm is there. Which is why I was impressed to read through a new report by Stephen Beer, the senior fund manager with the central finance board of the Methodist Church, on The Credibility Deficit, written for the Fabian Society. In the report, there is not only discussion of ideas central to what we might call ethical socialism (I should point out also that Mr Beer does political communications for the Christian Socialist Movement) but also presents them in such a way as to show their practical policy implications. For example, discussions around dishonest and unethical banking policies, key to the New Labour legacy, need to be overturned (which should go without saying) but the difference in liberal and socialistic measures is the former aims to situate a society where no vested interest is giving primacy in the political system, whereas the latter will legislate to ensure this is so, and is therefore not principally opposed to reining in laissez faire policies in order to see the good society flourish.

As Beer puts it in the key messages: “values must not be crowded out by markets … [revisiting, revaluating and applying these values] will require Labour to take some tough decisions”.

Other policy ideas such as investment focused stimuluses and muscular financial reform are also a welcome intervention into where the debate goes from here.

There are problems from the outset. Like the campaigns of Stella Creasy, they detail very opportunistic, and encouraging, reform, but there seems to be no enthusiasm for radical change of the system. I had the fortune of seeing Beer and Creasy share the same platform while at conference, and while their messages resonate with local challenges, it stays safe at times working only to rework the current economic system from within it, and not putting forward challenging longer term aims such as an end to the debt society – a predicate to capitalism (Beer, on the evening I saw him speak, pretty much said debt is a societal good – a notion I find contradicts the good of society).

From the conversations I’ve had over the last week, ideas is again the name of the game, and many people are playing (the forthcoming Red Book by the Labour Left group, in which I have a chapter, is another case in point). It’s now time to translate those conversations into economic policy. The Credibility Deficit is a good beginning to the translation, and I hope it is listened to by the right people to carry it forward.

This first appeared at Though Cowards Flinch

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