In his speech on Tuesday Ed Miliband conceded that the concept of One Nationism was first espoused by Tory prime minister Benjamin Disraeli.
Disraeli’s version of One Nationism was born of a belief that members of society have obligations towards each other. Fine so far. But Conservative One Nationism accepts and even promotes a stratified class-based society with the less well-off in receipt of support from the wealthy and powerful.
This paternalistic approach is not dissimilar to the culture of America where philanthropy is often seen as an alternative to progressive taxation. This can represent a form of redistribution but with the wealthy and powerful determining who benefits and how – usually the ‘deserving poor’.
Under this traditional vision some wealth is redistributed but power remains in the hands of the few. Miliband’s vision needs to outline how not only wealth but power can be redistributed under a future Labour government. In his speech he made references to challenging the poor practices of the banking sector, to dealing with the privatised utilities, and to the worst excesses of some sections of the media, hinting at a redistribution of power, but this vision needs to be expanded and explained.
Lessons can be learnt from across the labour movement. Cooperatives and trade unions, for example, are both based on the principle of redistributing both wealth and power.
Over the course of the last Labour government, the NASUWT and other trade unions in the education sector worked in social partnership with government, bring the views of hundreds of thousands of education practitioners to the heart of national policymaking – sharing power. The result was better policy, better practice and a workforce committed to the reforms. This social partnership was one of the first initiatives to be abolished by the coalition government.
The principles of One Nationism should not be restricted to the national level. The belief the members of society have an obligation to one another requires that cooperation is prioritised over competition between schools. Both Miliband and Stephen Twigg referred in their speeches to their own comprehensive schooling. A comprehensive education system must be at the heart of One Nationism – resisting the fragmentation the coalition is inflicting through academies, free schools and the break-up of other parts of the public sector. All schools should work together to ensure that every child in every community attend a good local school, are surrounded by a team of teachers and other professionals and given all the support they need to to succeed.
An education system in which cooperation and mutual obligation are the norm and a society in which both wealth and power are redistributed would represent not just One Nationism but also a clear commitment to a bright future for all young people.
Chris Weavers is principal official (parliamentary and trade union liaison) at NASUWT and tweets @ChrisWeavers
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