These were originally published as letters in response to John Harris’s piece on the decline of Social Democracy Labour’s real challenge
Anthony Painter—author of “Left without a future?”
The slow death of traditional European social democracy is a tale that has been told many, many times. In What Labour’s next leader needs to know, John Harris treads the now familiar path of New Times, New Labour, and new populism. Yes, we are now a more plural, fragmented, complex and individual society. Each new movement of the moment will be presented as the proof that the patient is on the way out. And indeed it is. It’s easy to despair at Labour’s leadership election. But there is a much broader challenge. To focus on community organising or social media pretty much alone as new forms of democratic collectivism is insufficient. I agree with Harris that new democratic energy is emerging—to an extent—and that is something the Labour party will need to learn to embrace. There’s something far bigger that’s required for the centre-left though. What are the design features of a different type of economy? How can welfare work in a way that is liberating rather than imprisoning? How can power between the citizen and the state be fundamentally, as opposed to occasionally, be recast in favour of the former? It’s not just our politics that is getting smaller. Our questions are too and that is why the answers seem so incomplete. Understanding people
Rowenna Davis—Journalist and former Labour candidate
Having stood as the Labour candidate in Southampton, where we lost the seat after 23 years, I recognise some of the historical and cultural causes of our defeat that John Harris identifies. Southampton used to have Ford and Pirelli factories, which were unionised and whose members voted Labour. That’s all gone. I share Harris’s diagnosis that what we need is a common purpose and a shared identity, rather than management speak and identikit politicians. Jeremy Corbyn has energy, but a leader must understand that people can feel bullied by the state as well as the market.