Is Labour's future conservative?
Marc Stears argues that Labour's emerging new identity, championed by people like Jon Cruddas and Lord Glasman and supported by Ed Miliband "is encouraging the Party towards a celebration of tradition, locality and even some forms of social conservatism. It is urging a shift away from the focus on the left on material redistribution and the need for public services always to be delivered directly by the state.
The emerging new identity, on this account, will be more localist and less statist than we have been used to. It will also be more focused on questions of belonging and identity and less concerned with issues of material equality."
Stears urges that we support this tradition, against the "liberals" "who worry that this new identity is dangerously conservative and contains too little to attract many of the minority groups with whom Labour has come closely to identify," and the "progressives" "who see the new identity as backward-looking and nostalgic. Labour, to them, should be about equipping Britain for global economic competition, through dynamic technology and transferable skills, rather than seeking to re-establish community life at a local level."
I'm all for building deep roots in communities, moving away from decisions being taken by a Westminster elite and so on. But I would humbly suggest that this will involve a greater, not lesser, focus on material equality and high quality public services.
At a time when benefit cuts are making life even tougher for millions of low paid workers, disabled people, carers and the increasing number of unemployed people while bankers get back to business as usual, at a time when the NHS is under threat from being broken up and handed over to private health companies, when the government's policies will increase crime by slashing police numbers and youth services alike, this is the moment for Labour to talk about "belonging and identity" rather than greater equality and defending public services?
I think it is quite sad that Jon Cruddas and his allies have concluded that "Labour's future in England is conservative". There is a lot which this government and market forces are trying to destroy which should be conserved, from forests to Sure Start centres. But there is, now more than ever, a need for greater equality, good quality public services, and an active state. Abandoning that in favour of this week's new buzzwords is wrong in principle and wrong in practice.