Labour’s most urgent challenge is to articulate a credible case for what social democracy looks like in an age of tight public finances. The Progress political weekend had pointers for the debate ahead.
For Gloria De Piero, optimism about the future is central to our mission. Labour needs to challenge the vision of the future painted by the coalition, of unending austerity – paid for by the wrong people.
John Woodcock’s position was that Labour’s mantra of Labour investment versus Tory cuts is dead. The public know that there are difficult choices that government needs to make, and they will expect us to demonstrate that we understand that also – we need to show how we can spend differently, not just spend more. Liz Kendall’s work on care is an example of what we can do here, but inherent in this is the idea that we may decide to do less in some areas in order to enable us to run public services which keep pace with demographics, expectations, tighter finances and the potential of technology. We need to extend our concept of entrepreneurship from the private sector to the public realm.
Fiscal conservatism is at the heart of Hopi Sen’s prescription for social democracy; a government which understands that the public are not in the mood for risk taking. His idea of a ‘Warren Buffett social democracy’ – prudent, trusted by everybody and which spreads wealth – should be a goal we can all share. Hopi’s core insight was that we need to recognise that the Tories want to use the age of austerity to demolish social democratic institutions, and our role is to reform them so that they are capable of enduring a period of low growth and growing demand, and can provide the support people need to cope with the insecurity that brings.
Phil Collins advocated a ‘Theresa May moment’ for the Labour party; an acknowledgment that Labour didn’t always spend as prudently as we ought to have and a recognition that this contributed in (a small) part to the deficit. By failing to admit to responsibility for that part, we are being blamed for the whole. Social democracy as conceived to date can’t be implemented without substantial resources, but looking to the future, the challenge is to ask ourselves whether we are focused on spending the £580bn we still have available, in the most effective way to deliver social justice.
From my point of view, it is exactly because we didn’t abolish boom and bust after all, that a progressive Labour government is necessary. By our actions during the last recession we showed that the worst brutality of the Tory recession of the 90s could be avoided by progressive measures, but it is incumbent on us to be the defenders of a social democracy which works both in good times and in bad , and also in times of rapid change. The challenge of the deficit is more than matched by the challenge of demographic change. The Progress political weekend tells me that we have started to grapple with that, but there is much to do if by the next election we are to deliver a fresh vision of Labour’s mission, optimistic but grounded in reality.
Jeremy Miles is a candidate for the National Policy Forum in Wales
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