The Best We Can Hope For?

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?

Miliband One Nation landscapeIt 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

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.


  1. […] ‘The Best We Can Hope For?’, by Harry Barnes […]

  2. Graham Wildridge
    15 July 2013

    In the very same week that Ed Miliband has his Blair-moment to confront the Unions, Barry Winter tries hard to disagree with me in

    But to do so he has to talk about stuff that I never said.

    I am in favour of engagement, but that doesn’t mean sitting on a chair outside the room where things are decided waiting to be told what ‘my’ decisions are. Cruddas and co. need to understand that.

    Ann Black reported on Labour’s National Policy Forum of 22/23 June (Cruddas turned up this time). Ann said: “Jon Cruddas ran through the 21 pieces of work commissioned by HIS policy review. As at NEC meetings, members felt this was where the real thinking went on, and where surprise announcements from shadow ministers originated. The NPF was limited to a few topics chosen by conference from a highly restricted list, and this was disempowering. We were again assured that everything would come through the NPF EVENTUALLY, but there was still no indication of how ordinary members could shape party thinking at earlier stages.”

    Barry mentions the recent spat over Falkirk. But I don’t know what that is about. And I don’t think Barry does either. But I am certain that if the Labour Party bureaucracy has its way then neither of us will know the truth.

    Personally, I think that I would be more likely to support Karie Murphy in Falkirk to replace Eric Joyce (a House of Commons “fighter”! – how did he get selected?) than either Tristram Hunt in Stoke or Luciana Berger in Liverpool.

    There is a struggle going on in the Labour Party. Which end of the rope is ILP pulling?

  3. Harry Barnes
    15 July 2013

    Jonathan, whether we should welcome One Nation Labour rather depends upon what it is. One reason for attempting to engage in discussions with people such as Cruddas and Glasman, would be to try and get them to spell out what their approach amounts to.

    For instance, does it take account of any or many of the ideas thrown up in the ILP perspective? If One Nation Labour is a reaction to New Labour and post-modern politics, then what sort of reaction is it? Perhaps such a reaction (like pragmatism) would only lead us in the direction of short-termism, based on passing whims – not much different then from New Labour in the end.

    If One Nation Labour was, however, to become a modern form of pre-Thatcherite conservatism then that might actually be something that would open up some scope for elements of democratic socialism in the Labour Party. For things are that bad for us at the moment that we need to look for any openings we can. If One Nation Labour is an improvement on pre-Thatcherite conservatism, then I would like to see the details for this.

  4. Jonathan
    11 July 2013

    Harry, I really enjoyed reading your article and I totally agreed with you in the first three paragraphs. The idea that One Nation Labour is just pre-Thatcherite conservatism is wrong. It’s a reaction to New Labour and post-modernist politics.

    So we should welcome it.

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