New participatory democracy
My Welsh socialism
My New Socialist
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656 17 March 2003
Labour take its stand?
My growing preoccupation is with this question.
When Blair goes, where will Labour takes its stand - as a political party?
Where will we find an alternative rallying-point? The
status quo ante (in the obfuscating
jargon of the law, that means "the pre-existing position") is simply not an option. Old Labour really did
run out of steam, with the Kinnock defeat. The Old Marxist Left really
does have nothing
to offer. Tribune, Red Pepper, SWP, Tony Benn, the TU
leadership - none of them has two good ideas to rub
together. The barren, negative, "anti-capitalist" forces behind the StoptheWar
Coalition have no convincing forward agenda.
Liberal democracy really is a busted flush, throughout Europe. So
is the murkier option, Christian Democracy...
Yet the Labour Party
will have no choice but to move on. And if my Party is to
retain power, the change of gear will have to be swift, and decisive. The
penalty for failing to make such a change is plain enough for all to see, in the
current parlous state of the Tory Party. Major raised no new banner, and
the magic of the Thatcher years simply ebbed away while he was in charge.
Precisely the same fate could await Labour.
For the "Third Way" connotes no coherent political
path. With Blair gone, its barrenness will be cruelly exposed - just as
Thatcherism was exposed, post-Thatcher, and Poujadisme was exposed, post
Poujade... It was only the charisma of personality that held those
I will be raising the
Liberal Socialist banner. The Labour Party should remain an
association of socialists - committed to the construction, throughout the world,
of an equitable civic order in which each individual is accorded the standing
and respect due to common humanity, by way of egalitarian and democratic
institutions. For socialists, those institutional structures are essential
preconditions of the realisation of human potential, integral elements of the
just society. They are not constraints imposed upon a primal individualist
order, rather they are the very foundation of every ordered human society, even of the individual personality,
and a precondition of their development.
Socialists consider that a just society is
grounded upon the equality of all its members, upon the avoidance of all
discrimination in the enjoyment of human rights, and upon the full and equal
enjoyment of all the rights of political participation. The universal
enforcement of human rights, ever-widening in their scope and effectiveness,
constitutes a primary element in the realisation of the equitable civic order to
which socialists are committed. Socialists seek to express their particular
perceptions of social justice in the extension of workers' rights, family
rights, migration rights and rights to the full flowering of individual
personality in all phases of our lives. In particular, socialists will
pioneer, as part of an equitable civic order, new and egalitarian
conventions to regulate global migration. And socialists re-affirm their commitment to counter the abuse of power, whether public or
private power, wherever it is deployed in breach of human rights.
Labour should reassert its commitment, already
embodied in its Constitution, to ensure that collective decisions are taken
by the communities most directly affected by them, thus strengthening the
processes of devolution and subsidiarity throughout the United Kingdom and
the European Union. And an integral part of the new civic order should
be the wider participation of all citizens in the governance of their
socialist commitment remains international
in character and in scope, asserting for all humankind the dignity and the
rights to be accorded by virtue of common humanity. And as nation
states diminish in their relative political significance, so socialist
objectives fall to be achieved by way of inter-state agreement, the rule of international law and the universal enforcement of a
widening range of individual rights enjoyed by humankind as employees, as
parents, as believers, as migrants, as political activists, as citizens in the
quiet enjoyment of their lives.
equitable civic order which socialists seek is characterised by the diminution
of fear in every phase of human life. As socialists, we should seek to
abate the burden of all destructive fear - the fear of poverty, fear of
ill-health, fear of unemployment, fear of war and civic disorder, fear of old
age. Social institutions are to be so constructed as to generate, in place of fear, a
settled confidence in the justice of the civic order, of its apportionment of
burden and benefit in confronting the unforeseen eventualities of human life.
And for socialists, these objectives
are to be fulfilled in ways which do not sacrifice the interests of future generations by
the degradation of the environment, or the wasteful deployment of natural resources.
Socialists should seek to take advantage of the exploitation neither of other
peoples nor of future generations, and should strive to implement the principles
of sustainable development in all phases of public life.
That's what I say.
I believe that the majority of Labour Party members, coupled with many LibDems
and a smattering of moderate Tories, would rally to such a banner. It
would assert the primacy of public institutions, and their role in the
structuring of the just society. It would move the Party away from
traditional "big State" institutions, towards a more diverse, more localised
focus upon communal, municipal and regional institutions. It would be
individualist, green, and liberal in its personal values. Such a manifesto
would move Labour, paradoxically, towards a triangulation point with the Liberal
Democrats, and take the wind out of Charles Kennedy's sails. It would move
the Party a few points further away from any identification with the trade union
movement, a move which I consider desirable: in other respects too, the Labour
tradition would be
adapted to the new political circumstances. Some Blair supporters would
defect to the Tories, because the political distance would not be great.
I have chanced my arm - what is your position? Drop me a line
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17 March 2003
means to me..
Is a new focus thinkable, for the Labour
Party? My answer is YES.
A deliberate move is needed to establish common ground between traditional
socialist perceptions and the human rights agenda, informed by a deep
respect for the sovereignty of the human spirit and a common perception of
the primacy of social institutions. I have already
set out my stall.
The starting point is the restatement of the core values of socialism, each
in the light of personal perceptions and and experience. Liberal
Socialism remains, first and foremost, a socialist philosophy which
acknowledges and reflects the force of international political change.
Labour faces the challenge of re-building its own foundation values. The tragedy of the Blair Project
was that, for all its glitter and electoral success, it was devoid of
enduring values. It is not enough
to declare the task of Government to be "enabling", that of releasing the
potential of each individual. It is
not enough to declare that what
is good is what works. It is
to declare the primacy of "the many" over the few. It is
to define socialism as conveying simply that many task are better done if we
act "together", that socialism is merely "social-ism",
just another -ism, just another fad. My own attempt to re-state my own
socialism is already on the record.
Socialist values which, in the last generation, were
conventionally expressed in collectivist forms, would be restated as
individualist values. Liberal Socialism gives less weight, for example to
the collectivism of the trade union movement and greater weight to the
individualism of the workers' rights agenda. It makes common cause
with groundswell of world opinion favouring stronger individual rights,
delivered by strong trade union action certainly, but not deriving their
moral force from that union action. The primacy of universal education
and healthcare would be expressed in terms of personal realisation and
fulfilment, not in terms of collective interests, whether social, political,
religious or economic.
Traditional concepts of democratic sovereignty would give way to a
recognition that there is a range of human rights which are not under any
circumstances to be abridged by the State, however large the "democratic"
majority, however compelling the mandate. Traditional European
socialist parties (and UK Labour is no exception) have been
traditionally committed to seizing the commanding heights of their
respective societies, and delivering fundamental structural change: that
should give way to a gentler style of government, a gradualist approach to
incremental change, recognising the primacy of tolerant, more liberal
political methods. The distinctive core of our common humanity is to be
found in those abiding values, those human rights. Liberal Socialism
would accord greater weight to cooperation than to confrontation, to
non-violent means of dispute resolution, to the
institutions of courts and tribunals, to diplomatic and consultative
- And within the Constitution of the Labour Party, the application of
liberal socialist principles would
strengthen individual members, and
minimise the roles of trade unions as organisations, and of the
For Liberal Socialists, the pursuit of equity as between present and future
generations would move to the centre of the political stage.
The principles of sustainable development will interpenetrate and transform
the politics of the 21st century, and Liberal Socialism would embody those
perceptions. The value systems of the older parties have not been able to
make room for the environmental perceptions of the younger generations. In the new Liberal Socialist manifesto, they would constitute a point of
The new Liberal Socialism would draw heavily upon the perceptions of Aneurin Bevan, and his understanding that an equitable civic order
predicates the removal of fear
from the lives of ordinary people. Socialism is no abstract political
theory, no blueprint for a particular social schema. The essence of
socialism is to be found in the lifetime experience of every human being, in
the replacement of fear by confidence, in the replacement of anxiety by
peace of mind, in the assertion of human equality in place of subordination
and disregard. I have derived many of my own
perceptions at one remove from his, and I explained them last year.
This is where I will take my stand, after Blair. Will I be alone?
What do you think? Drop me a line
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