After previous general election defeats Labour has tended to lapse into self-criticism and recriminations. Not this time.
After previous general election defeats Labour has tended to lapse into self-criticism and recriminations. Not this time
Labour has always sought to challenge the status quo. From Keir Hardie being a pioneer of workers’ rights against an establishment desperate to protect its privileges, to Ed Miliband championing the rights of consumers above the interests of energy companies, a sense of dissatisfaction with the established order is in our party’s DNA.
Labour has always sought to use the institutions of power to change things for the better. But the levers of power that ministers pull in Westminster are increasingly being exposed as rubber levers; the patriarchal sense that whatever is good for everyone in the country can be decided behind a desk in Whitehall makes progressive democrats cringe.
This crisis has been brewing for a long time, but has been mercilessly thrust into the open as a result of the current Scottish independence debate.
Many commentators have opined about how the current system is somehow ‘broken’, and that a rebalancing of the relationship between citizen and state is required.
Until now, however, diagnoses have been in greater supply than prescription. Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford’s latest book, One Nation, is the summary of two years of policy review within the Labour Party.
After previous general election defeats the party has tended to lapse into self-criticism and recriminations; this book reveals instead the depth and quality of thinking that has been done by the Party about what it is to be a citizen in a global society, with multiple senses of identity and belonging.
At the heart of this is a very welcome recognition of the huge importance of ‘place’. Nowadays where people live is probably the most significant way in which they identify themselves – as a Geordie, a Mancunian, as Cornish.
And Cruddas gives voice to a new form of politics built around ‘place’, not just as a more effective and efficient way of delivering public services but as a fundamental shift in how power should be distributed around the country.
A new role for local politicians as facilitators, enablers and convenors explicitly recognises these are the qualities that have been developed by Labour councillors over the last decade or so.
And the idea of a New Deal for England – further radical devolution of powers and responsibilities to local government – challenges head-on the narrow nationalism defined by UKIP and other parties of the right.
The importance of this book, as a signal of how Labour has developed, should not be underestimated. It answers head-on the question about how to deal with broken political institutions, by proposing radical devolution. It outlines a new vision for doing politics: more local, collaborative and engaging of people as citizens.
And above all it sends a message of optimism and hope that Labour has an alternative vision of society – rooted in social justice and active citizenship -than the consumerism, individualism and poisonous rhetoric of the Tories.
Nick Forbes is the leader of Newcastle CouncilLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.