Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

How do we create a new progressive coalition?

Andrew Gamble brilliantly outlines the challenges – and some potential opportunities – faced by progressives in Britain, writes Mark Walker 

Earlier this month we saw the publication of The Future of Progressive Politics as part of Policy Network’s Progressive Futures agenda. Like many on the centre-left it is important that we now start to define what our purpose is more clearly, and more importantly have a policy agenda to deal with the future challenges we face as a country. The work done by Andrew and Policy Network, set out in this publication, will hopefully be another cornerstone in that thinking.

The criticism often levelled at the centre-left that we have wasted too much time analysing the problems that lay before us. On this, Andrew Gamble’s book is a tour de force. Much like his recent book Crisis Without End? The Unravelling of Western Prosperity, Andrew articulates the challenges faced by those of us fighting for a progressive agenda and he has a forensic understanding of the landscape facing social democrats in this country.

There are some interesting policy proposals, notably the idea of universal basic services as an introduction to universal basic income, which I advocated on Progress last year. Yet, it still does not feel like there is a solid policy platform here to convince Labour members, let alone the wider electorate. Much of the debate at the launch event was about whether we should develop that detailed policy platform when we as progressives still have not clearly defined what our role is. The point was made that the 2017 manifestos were a battle of 1970s statism v 1950s style nationalisation. This would imply that there is space for something else, something that tackles the problems of the future as opposed to nostalgia for the past. This means, among other things, looking at the gig economy like Wes Streeting, or the digital economy like Liam Byrne.

At the launch Alan Milburn spoke of the need for a new settlement between socialist traditions and liberal values. This is the issue at the heart of Andrew’s book and the ensuing debate. It may be one we as members of the Labour party will find difficult to consider, but it is one that we have to be confident in addressing. The fact that we have only won three elections in the past 45 years indicates we may have to look at the proposition of a broader coalition. It is this failure by the Labour party to appeal to a broad constituency that is a hard pill to swallow for those who just lost council seats because of a few hundred votes going to the Liberal Democrats or the Greens.

The idea that we need to a national party rather than one of class has to be urgently examined because of Brexit. We are rightly concerned that our historical electoral coalition of the working class north and the metropolitan middle class seems broken for the foreseeable future. This is not a completely new position for us – our success in 1945 was much indebted to building support beyond the Labour movement.

It is vital that we keep our values at heart when we look beyond our traditional base for support. It is only then that we will be able the avoid the pitfalls of internal division that have plagued our history. Perhaps this is the definition of Open Left that we need as progressives?

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Mark Walker is client director at Cascade Communications. He tweets @MarkTW2

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