Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The power of sociology

A new publication from IPPR is of vital importance to Labour’s policy review, says Gregg McClymont MP

How do political parties engage with the electorate to develop their programmes for government? This question lies at the heart of Labour’s policy review. In an essay published in the March edition of Progress I argued that a policy review proceeding on revisionist principles must begin by assessing how the world has changed since New Labour. Graeme Cooke’s new IPPR publication, Still Partying like it’s 1995, is a major contribution to this process, not least because it synthesises so much of the available sociological literature in a form suited to time-poor Labour politicos.

Cooke illuminates just how much Britain has changed since the mid-1990s and provides a detailed analysis of the social groupings that together make up the ‘squeezed middle’. For example, Cooke explains that female employment has plateaued, women are working longer hours, and that a major pay and prospects divide is emerging the source of which is increasing divergence in the age at which women begin child-rearing. In housing, Cooke explores how private renting is on the rise and home ownership is in retreat, particularly for under-30s. In the labour market, long-term unemployment and disability is increasingly linked to chronic conditions and mental health issues – and individuals suffering from these are an increasingly significant group of voters that Cooke emphasises.

Cooke’s identification of under-reported social issues and social groups is surely crucial to an opposition party of the centre-left getting a hearing and wresting the political agenda away from the government. Fascinating too is his examination of the possibility of an ‘alliance’ of ‘good’ companies, business leaders, long-term investors, trade unions, social movements, philanthrophists and social enterprises. We must listen more to these groups before we can offer prescriptions. Without proper engagement with the outside world, party policy documents will never amount to a comprehensive programme.

Cooke therefore has done Labour a great favour. While we can all individually experience and personally understand some aspects of social change by virtue of our own lives, families, friends and communities, Cooke’s sociological study is a much more reliable guide to society as a whole. This is the power of sociology – a power which if properly harnessed by Labour policymakers can help identify the lineages of a viable political programme for 2015.

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Gregg McClymont is MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

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Photo: ippr

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Gregg McClymont MP

is member of parliament for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

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