To defeat the coalition, the new Labour leader needs to reclaim the natural ideological territory of the leftby Shiv Malik / September 28, 2010 / Leave a comment
Ed Miliband’s first speech as leader of the Labour party reverberated with one ill-defined phrase: the “new generation.” But what does he mean by this? “The era of New Labour,” he told Andrew Marr last Sunday, “has passed.” And yet he detests the “Red Ed” label; he is no socialist of the big state mould. So what is left? He says he wants to “redefine” the centre ground. To do this, he needs a political formula that will please everyone, allowing him to move away from both new Labour and old statist Labour, and win back core and swing votes. In short, he needs to steal the big society from right under David Cameron’s nose.
If there’s one thing both old and new Labour is supposed to stand for, it is the working man and woman. As Tim Leunig outlines in this month’s Prospect, new Labour’s economic thinking was based on a pact similar to that brokered by Robert Reich and the Clintonistas in the US in the early 1990s. The deal, best articulated by Anthony Giddens in his formative text, The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy, was simple. The left would champion globalisation and the free movement of both labour and capital, but to mitigate against the worst excesses of neoliberal capitalism—low entry-level pay, lack of security and social dislocation—Labour would use the state to levy tax on growth, and redistribute that money through the benefits system to the poorest and most severely afflicted.
For a while it looked like it might work. Yet the problems were always manifest. Taking money away from people once they posses it is difficult and unpopular. The rich simply use their economic freedom to shuttle their assets into tax havens. Meanwhile the poor become dependent. Worst of all, as we a discovering right now, come a downturn, the money for the poor dries up altogether.
Ed Miliband understands this well enough. During the leadership hustings he continuously made the point that immigration and flexible labour helped to drive down conditions and wages. Ignoring these realities played a major role in alienating Labour’s traditional working-class support. The question is now, after a fairly bruising defeat at the polls, what does his party do about this?
There is a fourth way, to Giddens’s third. As both “red Tory” ideologue Phillip Blond and “blue Labour” thinker Maurice Glasman have argued, instead of redistributing cash, the…