Has Labour’s luck (and good sense) finally deserted it? Given how hard it is for governments to renew themselves after long periods in office, the handover from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown ought to be a blessing: the same broad New Labour canvas but a different style of painter. The court politics of the past nine years seems to be undermining much of that potential advantage. Even if Blair does go next summer, which was always the sensible cut-off point, it may now look messy and fractious, especially if the government’s broader competence remains in question. Some of the recent complaints about delivery seem to be based less on facts than on general ennui with New Labour (see Julian Le Grand on the NHS). But the foreign prisoner fiasco, although a small enough matter in itself, did point to a bigger problem: the failure to tell a convincing story on the “security and identity” issues that can encompass both the liberal middle class (broadly happy with a more fluid, pluralist society) and Labour’s more traditional and working-class supporters (anxious about rapid change). The New Labour approach to economics and public spending has, broadly, united these groups. But on the “who are we?” and “how can we live together?” questions, they are at opposite ends of the national spectrum—which accounts for some of the wild swings in Labour rhetoric.
I believe that the liberal and the anxious can be reconciled in a “liberal realist” politics, based on a robust defence of the value of national citizenship. I argue here (and at greater length in a Demos pamphlet) that progressives need to rethink their hostility to national feeling if we are to sustain the solidarities that underpin the good society. Indeed, a kind of liberal or progressive nationalism—comfortable with Britain’s multiracial character and its EU commitments—is part of the answer to the “progressive dilemma,” the tension between solidarity and diversity in developed societies.
Many of you are now familiar with the Quarter, the quarterly magazine produced by Prospect. The current issue is largely devoted to the state of the short story—including a tour d’horizon from William Boyd. It coincides with the launch of the first National Short Story Prize. Read James Lasdun’s winning entry inside.