As politics splinters across the West, the old divide of Left vs Right no longer seems to explain how voters think. Is the two-party grip on the existing system faltering? Could a new movement give voters what they want? It’s political realignment week at UnHerd and we have asked our contributors to invent a party and put together its manifesto. Will it be for the many – or the few?
I joined the Labour Party in 1994, and have no intention of leaving it. I have a hope, still, that it will re-emerge as the natural home of the working-class. But if it collapsed tomorrow, here’s where a new party of the Left should begin.
It should immerse itself among working-class people, representing a permanent presence in their streets, workplaces, communities and institutions. It should be as much a party of villages and towns as of the big cities.
It should challenge the social and economic liberal consensus head-on.
It should ditch vapid buzzwords such as ‘diversity’, ‘inclusivity’ and ‘fairness’, and resurrect the language of family, place and vocation. It should speak in concrete terms about the dignity of work and the human desire to belong – the things that really matter to ordinary people. It should emphasise responsibilities as much as rights, and take an axe to the whole divisive concept of identity politics.
It should recognise that there has never been an example of a political unit larger than the nation state that empowers citizens with the ability to exercise real democratic control over their rulers, while evoking within them any sense of innate attachment or spirit of mutual generosity. To this end, a new party of the Left should be unashamedly patriotic, not in that horribly jingoist “Salute the flag and sing the national anthem before assembly, children” kind of way, but the quiet, understated affinity to nation as millions of working-class people still feel and understand it.
It should commit to the establishment of an English parliament within a federal United Kingdom.
It should accept that multiculturalism, in actively promoting separation and difference and engendering the unofficial ghettoisation of many towns and cities, has failed miserably. Instead, it should opt for the melting pot approach, using every available lever of the state to foster the deepest unforced cultural consensus. Socialism is, after all, built on unity, not division.
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It should end the catastrophic policy of free movement which has commodified workers, atomised communities and toxified the whole immigration debate, and instead seek to develop a policy around immigration which restricts numbers to a level conducive to more effective integration and does not disproportionately impact on already hard-pressed working-class areas.
It should see the nation as a home rather than a shop, and so not elevate flimsy arguments about GDP over the importance of quality of life.
It should be uncompromisingly anti-racist.
It should strive to revitalise the space between market and state by breathing new life into disempowered local and relational institutions such as mutuals, workers’ co-operatives, credit unions and friendly societies. The vitality of these ‘little platoons’ – once the lifeblood of civic society and a central feature of the labour tradition – is essential to strengthening the bonds of solidarity and reciprocity between the individual and community on the one hand, while mitigating the worst effects of an unrestrained market and an overbearing, impersonal state on the other.
Economically, any new party of the Left should be implacably anti-austerity, not only because of the deep social pain austerity inflicts, but, as we learned in the 1930s and have seen again over the past decade, making deep cuts to public expenditure is the worst possible response to the problem of a faltering economy.
It should make full employment the prime goal of economic policy and adopt an industrial strategy which has, at its heart, the reinvigoration of manufacturing, an explosion of sustainable blue-collar jobs and an end to the predominance of financial services at the expense of the real economy. Crucial to this is the need to improve competitiveness by ending the decades-long overvaluation of the pound.
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It should support the concepts of workers on boards and employee share schemes.
Closing the gap between rich and poor should be its driving mission.
It should embrace Brexit as an opportunity to bring about democratic renewal and deliver a radical economic programme free from the shackles of the neoliberal European Union.
Though some of the above would be regarded as heresy by leaders of the modern Left, none of it should be deemed incompatible with traditional socialism. In fact, much of it represents a philosophy that ran deep inside the Labour Party for the first half of its existence.
A new party of the Left should be unremittingly post-liberal. A programme centred on full employment, growth, investment, reindustrialisation, redistribution of wealth and participatory democracy, combined with a respect for family, place and tradition, would represent the best hope of building that coalition of support between working-class and middle-class voters, from middle England to the East End of Glasgow, so vital to winning elections.
There is a gaping space for such a movement in British politics today. How I wish Labour would fill it.