WHITHER LABOUR? - A Framework for the Future
Updated: Jan 28, 2020
On the surface the swing against Labour may be seen as a reinforcement of Neo-Liberal politicisation of the electorate and a swing away from Social Democracy. I would caution however endeavours by the new Labour leadership to attempt a return to New Labour. Indeed, it can be argued that the Blair governments did more to reinforce its values and practices than its Major predecessor.
Neo-Liberalism can be identified with four main functions ie individualism; deregulation; free market forces and a reduction in the size of the state primarily through privatisation of state assets.
It cannot be right when hard working people have to resort to food banks to survive, when the number of homeless people is increasing, people on the streets are sleeping rough and the number of children living in poverty has now reached four million. Yet these are the results of the icons of Neo-Liberalism.
From now on I would suggest that the elephant in the room is not Brexit but Neo-Liberalism.
ESSENTIALS OF A SOCIETY
I would like to start by turning the values on their head in an attempt to get back to the real values of a Society, as opposed to what they have become. In other words, from the position of must haves, rather than might haves.
What are the essentials of a society? They are not merchant bankers or hedge fund managers, advertising people, or estate agents. Happiness can be provided by material things but rarely are they long lasting. That is more likely to come from good friends and good health. Go down any High Street and identify what we do not need. Ultra-capitalism may need nail bars and beauty parlours but does a decent society?
Fundamentally what a Society needs is doctors and nurses to get us well when we are sick. It needs teachers to pass on the knowledge learned in the past and builders to build shelter yes, to a degree security and, dare I say it, lawyers to settle disputes.
Yet in her infamous interview with the Woman’s Own in October 1987, Margaret Thatcher informed us that, …there is no such thing as Society. In fairness to her she claims to have only been partially quoted and meant to say ... that we start with the person and it is up to them to provide for themselves and not the state. What a Society does not need is capitalism and even if accepting the mixed economy, the main pillars of that Society, as described above, need to be in and performed by people dedicated to the health of the Society and not individual profit of private ownership.
At first sight one might say that thankfully she did not abolish schools. Few however, other than the most convinced zealots, would argue that changing the title of a school to the more academic nomenclature of academy has been a success. In particular with using unqualified staff to teach pupils. Neither does changing the name of a Headteacher to Chief Executive ensure better teaching practice in their school(s). The plural is added since many are endeavouring to manage multiple schools at the same time. What might you and your fellow staff have felt like in 2014 when your Secretary of State said that … expertise was overrated?
A Society, does not need shopping malls as gods to worship. Listening to members of the Conservative Party however you would believe that these are essential because they provide employment to those in the private sector who are the sole payers of tax to pay the public sector.
We need however to start changing the narrative towards emphasising the public sector at the expense of the private. We must remember that collectively 76% of the public wanted renationalisation of rail. Number one value with the British public is pride in the National Health Service. Yet the prevailing wisdom is that it should be managed by business outsiders, who know little about the Service and its unique problems but everything about maximising profit. Increasing privatisation and a cut back in public sector resource, including a shortage of 30000 nurses, has brought us the worst performance figures in the history of the organisation. Privatisation is not the answer! What we need to do as a Party is never stop emphasising the successes of public sector workers and the often highly innovative working practices that they employ day after day. Yet the very people who cannot praise the publicly employed nursing staff highly enough time and time again for the first-class service that they receive; come out of hospital and start blaming the so-called excesses and laziness of the public sector.
We need to start from here in changing one of the totems of Neo- Liberalism where public is bad, private is good and challenge rather than defend their agenda.
FREE MARKET ECONOMY
The driving greed for profit in the free market economy has permeated the Society at large since the 1980’s. Amongst many other things it has missed a century of the gradual increase in the improvement of employment conditions. These fought for by so many of our ancestors have taken us back to the times of the 1850’s. Indeed, in China and such places, working conditions in sweat shops replicate exactly those conditions.
The New Proletariat
In the East they have adopted the working practices of the Old Proletariat in selling their labour to produce goods. Their colleagues in the West however have become the New Proletariat by becoming the engine room for the demand side. This requires on-going growth to provide increasing profits resulting in an unquenchable acquisition of goods and services, many of whom are not required.
There has been a huge shift in the psychological contract of employment. Deregulation of employment conditions has only one objective in mind. To divert responsibility from employer to employee. To decrease risk, and therefore cost, on the employer by passing it to the employee. The latter therefore shares much more of the risk without the benefit of the profit made from their sacrifice. Practices like zero hours and short-term contracts, are purposely designed to make the person creating the wealth insecure and are an abomination to all that went before. The threat is also held above their heads, like the sword of Damocles, willing to accept the conditions, or the work will be taken elsewhere to the next person or even, in extremis, abroad. From a Labour viewpoint by 2024 sadly it will be interesting to see what is left in both jobs and conditions of work. The EU has agreed to many current humane practices. Imagine what it will be like once these protections are removed e.g. the working hours directive for a start. And the current government aims to get rid of them with relish.
2024 – A NEW PARADIGM
Many governments acquiring power have inherited a degree of certainty, whilst of course always being susceptible to events. Rarely can a Party have taken control at such a time of uncertainty than the current administration. Any knowledge of how the country might be by 2024 constitutionally, economically, politically, sociologically, technologically or ecologically is almost impossible to assess. It would be wrong for the new leadership to rush headlong into statements which quite probably will be well short of the mark by the time of the next election and they must resist this however hard the media endeavour to push. To that end, we need to start to emphasise that the only certainty is that we will be in a new paradigm. A paradigm is a framework that has unwritten rules and that directs actions. A paradigm shift occurs when one paradigm e.g. Neo-Liberalism, loses its influence and another takes over. It is far too early to predict a shift away from the current paradigm but it is not unreasonable to believe that certain structural changes could take place in all of the above categories. And it is with structural changes that such seismic shifts may occur.
We do however have some idea of the areas where these paradigmatic triggers might come from. As shown below:
COMMUNICATING THE NEW
Communicating change requires different actors to be influenced at different times. A small group of creative thinkers are already surveying the scene. Secondly, emotion needs to change. Current emotions of the electorate are all over the place and will take a while to start to settle, particularly how new Conservative voters in the north view their more traditional colleagues in the south etc. And, despite obvious early attempts to bring the former on board, the very principles of the current ideology cut across this in practice. We must also remember the 76% noted above. Thirdly, the ideas then need to be proven practically by those who are convinced by rationality. Finally, the ballast of any change needs to come on board. In other words, the people who prefer to look at what those around are thinking or doing. These will become the main voting group of 2024.
I suggest therefore that any new propositions are tested on the four different mind sets noted above. Apart from taking account of the arguments in Manifesto promises, it will be easier for campaigners on the doorstep to be able to offset opposition by adjusting arguments to the mind set of the potential voter.
A FRAMEWORK FOR THE FUTURE
I have described the current thesis of Neo-Liberalism quite thoroughly above. The antithesis of this is the post-war consensus of Social Democracy which broke down in the 1970’s and led to industrial unrest and chaos. Both systems are based upon competition, which ultimately leads to confrontation. A new synthesis is required. Even Plutocrats like the co-founder of Amazon Nick Hanauer in his paper The Pitchforks are Coming for us Plutocrats (Politico) recognise that the increasing disparity of wealth between rich and poor will ultimately lead to social unrest. This, added to a decreasing number of jobs due to AI and possibly due to Brexit, will cause even greater tension unless the current course is changed.
That course will need to replace competition with collaboration not between certain sections but the whole of Society. This can only be achieved by recognising and establishing a just society, fair to all with each recognising the value and circumstances of the rest. Hunaur takes the example of the minimum wage. Every time it is mentioned there shouts of horror go up from employers, including government departments, that it cannot possibly be afforded. In fact, the replacement to even a living wage in many cases is still being resisted wherever possible. Should the wage be doubled however all would benefit. Those worse off would have a far greater proportion of marginal income to spend, thereby enhancing the material quality of their lives. Increased consumption would result in increased profits for employers and the public purse would be enhanced since there would be less spent on benefits such as housing allowance etc together with the ability to enhance the benefits of those in greatest need e.g. pensioners.
Whilst I apologise to Messer’s Corbyn, Milne and many others for stating the obvious to most of us, it is not however us that we need to convince but them. We cannot fall into Blair’s trap of 1997. All that has done, and many of us said so at the time, is that moving the Labour Party to the right would only move the Tories in the same direction once they regained power. And sadly, boy have we been correct! Acknowledging the terrifying and often immoral ideology that is Neo-Liberalism, for it is an ideology not common-sense pragmatism which is how it is portrayed however, we must move above and beyond it if we are to succeed in the medium to long term. The public subliminally are beginning to realise that all is not right. We are, as many great thinkers, ahead of our time. There is always a gestation period between the idea and its implementation. Of all the policies’ ridiculed by the right-wing media was John McDonnell’s mention of the four-day working week. The increasing use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will become one of the most discussed policies. Lawyer-bots are already being used to carry out meticulous research, deep study of case law and intricate argument building in reducing employment in the legal business. Insufficient full-time jobs for everyone will require new ways of compensation, as experiments with universal basic income in places like Finland are recognising.
It would also do no harm to continually point out to the right-wing media the distinction between Marxism and Social Democracy. Marxism believes in overthrowing the state in order to improve the lot of the proletariat; Social Democracy believes in bringing about help to their plight within the system. So often during the past twelve months Marxism has been overused when describing the Labour Party, in the hope that it will be recognised as the actual state of affairs. We must continually redress this balance. That however is not to mistake the considerable change that is needed to the Neo-Liberal system, albeit in a well-argued case.
It is all very well using the argument that it is no use unless we are in power. We have been down that road before, after 1983. In 1997 we had power with a majority of 179. Sufficient power to do, as Johnson will do as he wishes for the next five years, and we blew it. To think that an appointed second chamber still exits, let alone a partly inherited one is a disgrace. Do not comrades take us down this path again.
Instead use the time to continually move down the road towards Social Justice for all and not just the five per cent at the top. We have seen the current thesis which is some way from the initial antithesis. Let us come together to create a new thesis by being more pro-active in our language and shape the language of the opposition. Between 2010 and 2017 instead of being proud of the behaviour of the Brown government we too easily allowed the Tories to get away with blaming us for the world recession, rather than championing the leading part we took in saving Western capitalism.
Neo-Liberalism is a stonehearted movement, out to improve the pockets of the rich. We, comrades, are a Party of the beating heart and long may it remain so.
Roger Lovell is author of Managing Change in the New Public Sector and Managing in the New Millennium