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656  17 March 2003   

Where should
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 themes together.

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 societies.

The 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.

The 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.

There: I have chanced my arm - what is your position?  Drop me a line

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657   17 March 2003  

What
Liberal Socialism
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 not enough to declare the primacy of "the many" over the few.  It is not enough 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 processes.

  • 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 political salariat.

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 departure.

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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- is that a deal?  Roger WE