After the global crisis, this is how the British centre-left should renew itselfby Gordon Brown / September 23, 2009 / Leave a comment
In the last year, we have lived through an economic crisis more profound than any since the great depression, and witnessed a parliamentary expenses scandal unprecedented in British history. The financial meltdown has profoundly challenged the international economic order, setting in train events that will shape the world economy for decades. At the same time, a new settlement in British politics is being born of the crisis of trust caused by public revulsion at events in Westminster.
I believe that the failure of self-regulation in finance and politics mean we are now living through a profoundly progressive moment in world politics. Events have shown the irresponsibility of those who called not for stronger, but less regulation. Today, it is the values and policies of centre-left movements that are shaping the global response to the economic crisis—whether through intervention in financial markets, global co-ordination of macro-economic policy, or the transition to a low-carbon economy. Everywhere, neoliberal thinking is in retreat, confronted by its catastrophic failure in the financial collapse of 2008. But if progressive ideas currently command the high ground in the global battle of ideas, that does not make the task of ideological renewal and rethinking on the centre-left in Britain any less urgent.
My starting point is that it would be a profound mistake to see the 21st century in the same way as the 20th: as principally a battle for territory between states and markets. We now know that where markets fail and banks collapse, active government is essential to provide regulation, manage demand management and steer a new path. Without such action by governments across the world the recent economic crisis would have been a catastrophe. Similarly, without a strong role for public services and welfare provision the recession would have brought widespread misery. In these circumstances, the enthusiasm for cutting back the state, so visible in contemporary Conservative thought, is a recipe for economic crisis and social injustice.
At the same time, this is not a Clause 4 moment in reverse. The economic crisis does not demand a return to nationalisation and central economic planning. Regulated markets and free trade remain the best means of stimulating enterprise, innovation and growth. The basic New Labour proposition—that economic dynamism and social justice go hand in hand, drawing the best of the public and private sectors into a partnership for prosperity and fairness—is sound.
The critical lesson from…