I very much enjoyed my visit to
Rugby to talk to your local Fabian Society. You have an excellent group and I found the discussion stimulating. The fact that there were so many people there who were willing to raise issues and ask questions shows, I believe, the desire to talk seriously about ideas in the Labour Party and the left more broadly. When I spoke recently to a local Labour Party meeting those present said that it was the first meeting they had attended for some time which discussed ideas. The Labour Party had been hollowed out by the end of its time in power and needs to draw inspiration from its rich socialist tradition.
I write this piece, firstly, to thank you for turning out to listen to me. I hope it was as interesting for you as it was for me. But, secondly, I would like to continue the discussion if possible.
In the ‘In Praise of Social Democracy’ article published in The Political Quarterly earlier this year, which I wrote with Roy Hattersley, and the ‘Socialism Now’ essay in the Fabian Review we made several arguments of which the principal ones are as follows:
- That the best, if not the only way, to win the next General Election is for the Labour Party to be overtly ideological. There are those, still, who argue that a ‘scientific’ approach is all that is required and still stick to the electoral strategy which the Labour Party had in the mid-1990s of targeting voters and focussing exclusively on focus groups and opinion polls. The ‘median voter’ determines election outcomes and parties must seek to capture an unchanging centre ground. They fail to realise that the Labour Party lost 5 million votes between 1997 and 2010 and that a sizeable proportion of these voters abstained in the belief that the Labour Party was no longer their party. If Labour is to win again it needs a new electoral strategy, one which is based on a clear sense of ideology, capable of inspiring people to vote for it. It has to offer people a positive reason to vote for it and not just against the Coalition.
- Secondly, that this ideology must be recognisably socialist (or social democratic if you prefer), including a commitment to equality and social justice. Since then Ed Miliband has advocated the idea of ‘One Nation’. Although originating outside the socialist tradition, it does effectively help to articulate the case for equality and social justice in a context in which social class no longer has the relevance it once had. Socialism not only provides the way towards the just society but also to economic stability and efficiency. It is the rise of inequality and the promise of vast bonuses which so destabilised the economy.
- Finally, that socialism cannot be achieved without a strong central state and that alternatives to orthodox democratic socialism such as ‘Blue Labour’ are distractions because they fail to recognise that only the central state can do certain things fairly or, indeed, at all. The crucial role of the state is something which all Fabians recognise!