We should seek dialogue with One Nation Labour, argues HARRY BARNES, then press it to restrict markets and remove private profit from precious areas of the public sector.
New Labour pressed for a “dynamic economy” within a neo-liberal framework which it hoped would produce growing wealth, some of which could be used for worthwhile social ends. In the end, however, the methods it supported undermined the ends it claimed to seek.
Essentially, it was a technique of trying to adapt a form of Thatcherite economics towards the production of certain sets of worthwhile (yet uncoordinated) social ends. It was doomed to fail. In the process, New Labour basically destroyed the remnants of democratic socialism which it inherited from within the Labour tradition. The ease with which it achieved this revealed the weakness of the very tradition which it dismantled.
What then of ‘One Nation Labour’ with its stress on the need to establish a responsible form of capitalism?
It seems to have some of the characteristics of the form of Conservatism which Thatcherism replaced. It is a tradition which runs from Disraeli to Butskellism, and on to the heyday of Harold Macmillan. Indeed, in 1938 it was Mac who wrote the text book for this approach, called The Middle Way. Even Ted Heath eventually recognised “the unacceptable face of capitalism”.
Things have got so bad inside the Labour Party (which now has little internal life) that this One Nation approach could be the best we can hope for to give the remnants of its democratic socialists a toe-hold back into the Labour movement.
While the ILP perspective considered at Scarborough in 2011 saw capitalism as “a system that violates our humanity and the environment”, it recognised that markets “can be very creative”. It is when they are unchecked that they are “capable of doing great damage because … people are subordinated to the pursuit of profit”.
A bottom line
There would then seem to be at least two things that the ILP needs to press upon One Nation Labour.
First, that restrictions and controls should be placed upon our markets in ways that deliver “real benefits such as reduced inequality, great social provision and fairer distributions of wealth and opportunity”.
Secondly, there is a bottom line that is an add-on to what One Nation Labour has yet announced. The ILP is insistent that “some areas of life should be removed from the influences of private profit entirely – health, education and public transport, for example”.
From the above stance, it would seem to me to be fruitful if the ILP sought to enter into a series of dialogues with people such as Jon Cruddas who is at the heart of the Labour Party policy review.
Where the points Cruddas and company pursue seem to be shallow, then we should add depth. Then, for key avenues such as health, education and public transport we should press the importance of the need for universal public provisions and the phasing out totally of the role of private enterprise.
For health, that means aiming to bring an end to private dentists, chemists, opticians, drug manufacturers, hospitals and insurance services. Education and public transport would be directed towards similar patterns.
Only if we seek to engage in a dialogue on these matters, will we be in a position to criticise what One Nation Labour finally comes up with if we feel that we are then being sold a pup.
So, at this stage, I am neither for joining a Jon Cruddas fan club nor blowing a raspberry in his face. Constructive dialogue involves us knowing what case it is that we are seeking to advance. Hopefully, he will respect that.
Harry Barnes was Labour MP for North East Derbyshire from 1987 to 2005. He blogs at http://threescoreyearsandten.blogspot.co.uk/
This is the latest contribution to a debate on One Nation Labour started at the ILP’s 2013 Weekend School.
A report of the Weekend School can be read here.
The three previous articles in this debate are:
‘The Condition of Britain: A Response to Jon Cruddas’, by John Halstead
‘The Condition of Britain: The Debate Goes On’, by Ernie Jacques
‘The Need for Engagement’, by Matthew Brown
The ILP’s 2011 political statement, The ILP: Our Politics, is available here.