There is much to welcome in David Miliband’s call for a ‘comradely and serious debate’ about the future for the Labour Party, as prompted by Roy Hattersley’s recent article in the Political Quarterly on social democracy. He is certainly right about the spirit in which the debate should take place, but this initial foray will have to sharpen its edge drastically if it is not to fade into a merely pious exchange about abstract aspirations.
The starting point has to be what went terribly wrong in the last decade or two leading to financial collapse and cataclysmic defeat in 2010. Those factors include financial deregulation which opened the way to toxic derivatives and the crash, a bonus culture that pumped up recklessness in the City and ballooned inequality, over-reliance on finance to the huge detriment of manufacturing, a naive belief in the self-regulation of markets, and an extension of privatisation into all public services on ideological grounds irrespective of outcomes. David does not mention one of them.
The real problem with his analysis is the assumption that the structure underpinning the British economy is broadly sound – just get the phraseology about the super-structure right. But even in that respect he doesn’t:
- “We should be reformers of the State, not just its defenders” – but the State does produce better outcomes than markets in many areas, notably in provision of key public services.
- “We should be champions of local government” – yes, not diminish it by PFI and endless outsourcing as New Labour did.
- “We should be clear about equality” – indeed, equality of opportunity is a chimera without much much greater fundamental equality, and equality and liberty must be reconciled not just for the rich but for the poor too.
- “We need a politics of economic growth” – yes, not supporting Tory austerity as certain recent moves have suggested.
- “Make our internationalism work for Britain” – whatever that means.
- “Continue to modernise the party” – but it’s already been shrivelled, do we really want more?
- “And defend Labour’s record in government” – but if it was so successful, why does it need defending, why doesn’t it speak for itself?
But the real flaw is the neglect of what is so badly wrong with Britain today, which only a real Labour government can and should put right:
- An unsustainable economic decline (the UK deficit on traded goods was a staggering £100bn last year).
- The loss of control over the money supply to the banks which prioritised allocation to mortgages, offshore speculation and tax evasion over productive investment in industry and exports.
- The need for a massive revival of British manufacturing as the only long-term lifeblood for the economy.
- The fracturing of British society into ever more excessive inequality and the stifling of social mobility.
- The re-democratisation of the outmoded British power structure, the need for which has been irrefutably demonstrated by successive scandals in the City, parliament, media, and police.
All these cry out for reform.