Writing this summary piece on the Progress Political Weekend plenary featuring Jon Cruddas, and chaired by the engaging Jeremy Cliffe of the Economist, could not be more appropriate in the week that George Osborne laid down his financial gauntlet ahead of the next election. With a budget that is more of a quick buck giveaway than sound economic strategising, Labour’s policy offer has never been more urgent and rooted to the realities and aspirations of the British people.
Never before has the tone of policy mattered so much more. As Tony King once uttered about Tony Blair, ‘He said education, education, education, but his subtext was reassurance, reassurance, reassurance.’ While the opinion polls and electoral predictions show a likely Labour victory, the mantra of reassurance, reassurance, reassurance needs to guide Labour’s policy offer to the British people, instead of trading off obvious anger to the choppy randomness of the coalition government.
There is a temptation going round in some quarters of the Labour party that the electorate has moved to the left in recent years. That old perception can only do Labour harm, falling into the trick of a ‘one more heave’ mentality that will prevent Labour from challenging its thinking to create innovative policies on the ground. It was to his credit that Jon (a man usually seen as being on the centre-left of the party) mentioned that some of the most innovative recent thinking occurring within progressive UK politics was Labour in local government – once epitomised by the basket-case of 1980s Liverpool council – now was leading the way in creating innovative local solutions for encouraging growth and reforming public services, notably the likes of Lambeth, Leicester and the York. It was pleasing to hear this creative thinking would be continuing with John McTernan, former adviser to Tony Blair, leading a taskforce on how digital technology can enhance delivery of services and opportunities on a local level, not to mention Labour’s reclaiming of the education agenda via its parent-led academies proposals.
Continuing to develop this theme, Jon also remarked that the real divide within Labour is no longer between left and right, but between those that centralise power and those that devolve it, a phrase revealing not only in how far Labour has matured as a party of government, but how united Labour is, working more coherently to formulate policy on the local as well as the national level, giving individual citizens and communities a greater stake in politics that is often perceived as distant and unknowing of local concerns. The forthcoming Industrial Policy and Growth Strategy headed by Andrew Adonis will serve a major part in this devolving strategy, providing more people with financial and entrepreneurial stakeholding, hand in hand with political stakeholding. Jon noted that the report is likely to be the signature report of this parliament.
Jon rightly emphasised how important it was for Labour to become the natural home for business and enterprise, noting that any failure to understand that wealth creation has to go hand in hand with public spending would leave Labour in the dead zone of politics, confined to electoral irrelevance.
These are the policy challenge that lie ahead for Labour as it heads towards the local and European elections this year and the general election next year. And, from the looks of the plenary session as well as Labour’s response to George’s Goodie Bag Giveaway, Labour is on the right path.
James Gill is a member of Croydon Labour party and is currently a council candidate. He tweets @JamesGill13
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