My #freshideas for Labour and a new progressive movement

So Ed Miliband is asking people to submit their #freshideas for the Labour Party to move forward, after their general election defeat and return to opposition against the Coalition government.

Let’s hope their attempt at crowdsourcing goes slightly better than the Coalition’s unintentionally hilarious “Spending Challenge” and “Your Freedom” experiments, which resulted in such suggestions as a windfall tax on people called Steve and the repeal of the Laws of Thermodynamics.

In all seriousness, though, this is the kind of thing we need to see more of from Labour. By the end of its time in office, it was widely perceived as being out of touch and unrepresentative of its supporters. Moreover, there have long been complaints that there is too little opportunity in the party for grassroots participation in formulating policy or strategy.

Since Ed Miliband and his team are supposedly listening, these are my views.

I joined Labour after the May elections, primarily to be part of a movement that would reduce our suffering under a Tory government to the shortest possible time. Since then, with government austerity measures occasionally spilling over into civil disobedience, I have come to believe that there is a real need for a coherent, cohesive movement of “progressive” politics, to work against the regressive stance of the Coalition.

I believe the Labour Party can stand at the centre of any such movement. Unfortunately, there are many of those on the Left who do not agree – and who can blame them, with New Labour’s terrible record on things like civil liberties? First and foremost, what Labour needs to do is ditch the New Labour identity and ideology completely, welcoming a spectrum of leftist opinion into the fold of a new, liberally-minded, socially progressive and radical movement – a coalition of our own, so to speak.

The Labour Party is a broad church, but it need not be closed to further widening. We can, and should, welcome opinion and activity from those affiliated with other parties, or none at all. But that will involve some concessions, to attract those who have become disillusioned with the party over its thirteen years in power.

There are no easy answers, and a movement as broad as the one I advocate will, of course, suffer from some internal disagreement. But we should focus on the things that unite us, not those that divide, and recognise that the most important bond for us all is a common purpose, a wish to stop the present government from deconstructing the kind of society we have all been working for.

“Recapturing the Left” should be the primary objective of Labour and any associated movement; the centre ground of politics is too crowded, and in any case we should be concerned with shaping public opinion, not slavishly responding to it. For my money, the primary goals for the Labour party going forward should be:

  • A commitment to ensuring universial civil liberties, including the reversal of many of New Labour’s regressive measures;
  • The presentation of a sensible alternative to the Coalition’s reckless austerity programme;
  • A widespread programme of political reform, based on a commitment to democratic principles and not ruling out radical changes in favour of “miserable little compromises;”
  • An emphasis on the protection of those most vulnerable to suffering the effects of the Coalition’s dismantling of the welfare state;
  • A commitment to ensuring the universiality of those sectors considered to contribute to the universal public good, such as health and education.

The specific policy details can be worked out later. Hopefully there is enough common ground in there with the rest of the Left to convince them that this reinvented Labour party is worth rallying behind, to present a credible and realistic alternative to our present government.

To borrow a phrase from Andy Burnham’s campaign to become Labour leader, this is not about Old or New Labour, but True Labour. A party that spearheads the progressive movement in this country – a party that is worth supporting.

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