Labour’s Story Right Now – Writer’s Block?

By Sara T’Rula / @saratrula
Photograph suggesting Labour's story to the British public
It has been nearly 10 months since Labour lost the general election, and nearly 6 months since Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the leader of the party. While electoral defeat wasn’t particularly surprising, the new choice of leader certainly was. Even Corbyn didn’t expect to win, and this shows in the latency of developing a clear vision for the party in the time he has been in charge.

Clear divisions within the party have exacerbated this narrative incoherence, with those on the Labour right often working more to undermine the party than to promote it. But the leadership itself appears to have fallen back on old issues in an attempt to forge a new Labour. Trident and the Falklands have both been more prominent than most voters would have expected.

Meanwhile, there are daily announcements of the government reducing workers’ rights, democratic freedoms, and social support.

We can ask why this has happened, and the usual answer is that Labour has been offering a traditional left-wing reaction to the neoliberal and meritocratic consensus that is the content of the centre. The centre ground is not immutable and fixed. It is always changing. Government policy has continually moved the centre ground further to the right since the 1980s. When Labour was in power for 13 years between 1997 and 2010, it may be argued that the party failed to shift the centre sufficiently towards the left as to create space for the party to do that now. The media, the Government, and our party have all placed the debate firmly back in the territory of the 1980s. It is time to move the debate into the 2020s instead.

Labour needs to develop a narrative in which sustainability and a limit on inequality is at the heart of the message. This goes beyond the usual conception of these terms as narrowly economic. We need to be asking if meritocracy is becoming a dystopia like Michael Young predicted, entrenching a new disequilibrium of power that itself leads to instability. We desperately need to take a long-term view as well as seeking short-term gains where these are compatible with the Labour vision. But, first, we need a clear vision.

Labour’s Story Is Being Written Around Us

Another economic crash in our near future is fast being called as fact, rather than possibility. International markets have slumped since the beginning of 2016, the Chinese economy faces massive systemic problems, emerging markets are dependent upon US monetary policy, and the US Federal Reserve has been buying up mortgage-backed securities like there literally is no tomorrow, marking a significant change in their monetary policy. London has been a major financial player since the Big Bang of 1986, so Britain has both a key responsibility in guiding economic stability globally, and a huge risk of blowback from bad decisions made at home and abroad.

When the former Bank of England governor, Mervin King, called another financial crisis “certain” due to insufficient financial regulation,he should have been echoing a Labour assessment of the economy that we’d been conveying clearly for some time in a way that both voters and business could understand.

Likewise, when the chief executive of Energy UK, the main energy-lobbying group, released the Pathway to 2020 paper calling for a shift to promoting low-carbon, sustainable energy, he ought to have been reflecting the kind of policy voters had been hearing Labour champion in their critique of the Conservative government abandoning this issue. David Cameron began leading the Conservatives by trying to position them as Green Tories, but that branding exercise has long since wilted and died. Mr. Slade (Energy UK) said of his group’s shift in energy policy, “No one wants to be running the next Nokia.” We should have been attaching the same cautionary analogy to how the Conservatives have mismanaged Britain.

And when the White House last week released the Economic Report of the President, it detailed their economists’ predictions that jobs paying less than $20 per hour have an 83% chance of being replaced by robots, and jobs paying $20-40 per hour having a 31% chance of being replaced by robots. Labour should have been thanking them for finally getting up to speed with our rational concerns about the negative impact of technological innovation. Robots aren’t ideological – advanced technology can be both progressive and regressive, and it’s up to us to tip the balance towards progress.

Finally, when the Conservatives have tried to redefine child poverty to omit factors such as household income, aggressively change the electoral system, ban councils and other local organizations from adopting boycotts, and reduce short money while simultaneously amputating the power of workers through their trade unions, Labour should have had a strong response consistently grounded in a firm belief that power must be shared in order for it to be a virtue for society. Instead, we frequently came off as reactionary in our response to these issues, fighting each one as they came, but failing to tie them together into a cohesive movement for change.

Old Tomes Need Revising For New Times

It is 60 years since Crosland published The Future of Socialism. It is now time for us to develop The Digital Future of Socialism, through which we ground our egalitarian principles in the understanding that prosperity comes from sustainable growth, responsible regulation of markets, reduced inequality, a politically engaged society, and space for true innovation instead of more superficial re-branding black holes.

A Future of Socialism that incorporates the understanding that technological innovation, as it currently stands, will increase inequality drastically, and squeeze the middle class while rendering the working class obsolete. A future of Socialism that provides a way to avoid this otherwise inevitable outcome, capitalizing on the benefits of technology while minimizing the damage from it.

From these principles, we need to act strategically and robustly in opposing the Conservative government for failing both in their own terms and on ours. At the moment, we aren’t doing this effectively. We need to step away from debates that have marked our past but that don’t fit our future. We don’t need to force the centre-ground back from its decades-long drift to the right – the very ground is already shifting that way under our feet. What we do need to do is to be at the forefront of articulating this trend into a coherent narrative for Britain’s future, thereby accelerating the shift, and embracing the nascent consensus that the system isn’t working anymore.

This newly-forming consensus underpins the legitimacy of our stance. But while we remain divided and distracted, we risk missing this crucial tide in the affairs of British men and women.

You may also like

Twinning CLPs to foster party unity by Lauren Davison | 27.08.20 | In: Editorial At the age of 24, I’ve moved around a lot. By September, I’ll have lived in 6 different constituencies (Reading East, Maidenhead, Portsmouth South, Walsall... Read More
“How can the Labour party build a winning coalition?” An interview with Jeremy Gilb... by Open Labour | 15.06.16 | In: Comment Jeremy Gilbert is a political analyst and activist based at the University of East London. His research draws on critical theory to explore the past, present... Read More
Labour Must Embrace Patriotism by Open Labour | 21.03.16 | In: Comment By Lewis Coyne Many problems beset the Labour party at present. But while gallons of ink have been spilt over the issues of leadership, economic... Read More
Budget 2016: The Illogical Sacrifices to The Altar of the Surplus by Open Labour | 16.03.16 | In: Comment By Jade Azim / @JadeFrancesAzim Today’s budget is, as expected, an assault on the most vulnerable, coated as a supposed essential step to delivering a... Read More