Labour gives liberal social democracy a go

No-one has a monopoly on wisdom and 100,000s of union members and Labour party members today chose- by a whisker- to try Ed Miliband’s liberal social democracy. In so doing they have rejected Blairism. The party’s platform will in no way now resemble the market accommodating, state reformist, strong law and order state, and international interventionism outlined in Tony Blair’s memoirs. That version of New Labour is no longer a contender as a governing philosophy. Not on the left anyway.

Gordon Brown never took on the authoritarian aspect of New Labour- and indeed tried to extend it- so the illiberal element of Brownism has now gone also. In fact, for the first time in living memory, all three main parties are socially liberal and have a liberal reformist instinct on criminal justice. Labour could have continued with the authoritarian arms race but Ed Miliband has chosen not to do so. the Coalition created the political opportunity to reject that agenda and Ed Miliband has taken it. This is an enormous shift of British politics in a liberal direction. The importance of this should not be understated. Liberalism has won against authoritarianism- for now.

However, Ed Miliband adopts Brownite social democracy in all its essential elements. He favours a strategic interventionist state in expanding future growth prospects. He will resist in full-blooded fashion the Coalition’s cuts. And Labour will continue to see a more significant role for the state as a redistributionist counter-weight to market injustice. Expect a restorationist manifesto for the party at the next general election with regards public services. In all these respects the Labour party remains the party of Gordon Brown instead of Tony Blair.

The next election will be a straight fight between liberal conservatism and liberal social democracy. It is impossible to predict which will be the winner at this stage. Once again the democratic republicans in British politics- who are more concerned about addressing power imbalances over formal equality and are consequently suspicious of market and state power- have lost out. They can console themselves with the fact that Ed Miliband is a genuine democratic reformer with a commitment to constitutional reform, greater localism and the living wage.
So the course is now set for the next few years. It is clear. Yet the outcome of the two-way liberal social democracy v liberal conservatism is anything but clear.

Labour's love affair with Europe

Labour has had a conflicted relationship with “Europe” and its various stages of political union, ever since Ernie Bevin rejected Jean Monet’s 1950s plan for a European Coal and Steel Community because “the Durham Miners wouldn’t buy it”.

Political historian Peter Hennessy has explained that this opposition reflected both the workers’ concerns that they would lose control of the just-newly nationalised heavy industries, but also how those same men had fought across Europe just a decade before as the Durham Light Infantry, and would be loath to share any form of power or sovereignty with their former foes.

More than half a century later, these old suspicions and enmities have dwindled but Labour has remained restricted by a parochial Weltanschauung.

Tony Blair promised in 1997 to put Britain “at the heart of Europe” but rapidly found himself constrained first by New Labour’s timidity towards the tabloid press (remember The Sun’s headline describing then-German finance minister Oskar Lafontaine as “the most dangerous man in Europe” over tax harmonization proposals?), and then by the toxic fallout from the Iraq War and Donald Rumsfeld’s distinctions between “Old” and “New” Europe.

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