Plan first, squabble later

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By Colm Flanagan / @ctmflanagan

In an article for IPPR, Tony Wright has written that Labour has lost its sense of purpose and needed to reinvent itself. On his own terms, he is half right. He evokes Tawney and his 1931 dismay at Labour’s “lack of creed”. His definition of creed is threefold: ‘a common conception of the ends of political action, and of a means of achieving them, based on a common view of the life proper to human beings, and of the steps required at any moment more nearly to attain it’.

When it comes down to it, the Labour Party today is remarkably united about the first two of these. Britain today is afflicted by huge inequality, to the degree that some people just can’t win in our society, and some people can’t lose. When it comes to the ends of political action, some may talk about hitting those at the top, others may talk about Britain’s international obligations, but all are agreed that our task is to ensure a decent standard of living for every man, woman and child living in Britain.

Moreover, even though there might be some who still believe tax credits are enough, and others dabble with citizens’ income, on the whole, we’re all agreed that the only way we’re going to get a decent standard of living for everyone is for everyone to have a decent job.

It’s so obvious, and so necessary, that even George Osborne realises this idea’s power, and tried to appropriate it with his National Living Wage.

We’re even fairly united when it comes to the elusive third part, the steps required to attain it. Economically speaking, the left has never been so right, and the right has never been so left. There now exists a broad consensus that, in the words of a recent Progress editorial “the market is indeed rigged against the people Labour members came into politics to help”, but rather than nationalising everything, Corbyn is settling for the trains, and has launched ‘www.corbynforbusiness.com/’. Left and Right seem to have reconciled themselves to Labour’s role: to manage capitalism – both parts of that phrase.

This is what separates us from George Osborne. He will never be able to take the steps necessary to ensure a decent standard of living for all Britons because he will never tackle the vested interests and power bases in the way. If anything, he is about strengthening them.

The only thing he’ll do is deregulate and cut taxes, like a mechanic who only cuts the brakes on a car to make it go faster.

What we need to do now as a party is to work on how we’re going to achieve a change to this state of affairs, and even more importantly, how we tell people about our plans in a way that makes sense to them.

We have plenty of policy initiatives to consider. Universal childcare. A National Investment Bank. People’s QE. just to mention but a few.

In each case, implementing this vision now seems less a question of values or ideology, as it once was, but a question of details and feasibility, sewing together diverse policies into a coherent plan, and making this part of a story and a political strategy.

If we were to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn tomorrow, or Simon Danczuk, or whoever your bogeyman is, we would still be unelectable, as we still wouldn’t have a credible plan for where we wanted to take the country.

Let’s take care of this, and get the knives out later – if we still feel like it. I suspect once people think that Labour could change Britain, they’ll put aside petty posture politics and fight for the communities they love.​

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