The Next British Centre-Left
The Next British Centre-Left: Labour and the Liberal tradition is a new Policy Network pamphlet which strongly urges the Labour Party to adopt a more realist, long-term and coalition-building political strategy if they are to succeed at the next general election.
The paper’s authors, Policy Network senior research fellow Patrick Diamond, and professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London, Michael Kenny, assert that Labour’s long-term position as a majoritarian party of political power and social purpose is under threat.
The major focus since the election defeat of May 2010 has been a debate about values and vision. While giving these an airing may well have had cathartic value, and did undoubtedly hit on some key failings in office, the debates it has generated have been strikingly unfocused in terms of policy and strategic direction.
The next British centre-left is the latest in a series of Policy Network pamphlets, which includes Southern Discomfort Again, In the Black Labour and Cameron’s Trap, that encourage debate within the Labour Party over the necessary economic and political strategy required to give the centre-left new purpose and vision.
The central arguments of this pamphlet are that:
• A new coalition of ideas is required in British politics - a marriage of social democracy and social liberalism - to address the big questions of the age on capitalism, the state, the constitution, relations with the European Union, and the future of the United Kingdom. Every successful Labour government in history has sought to fuse the values of social liberalism with social democracy and democratic socialism.
• There is a compelling case for principled co-operation with progressive Liberal Democrats to fight for centre-left causes: maintaining Britain’s role as a constructive partner in the European Union, and preventing the break-up of the United Kingdom. Making the case for co-operation in the Labour party is hard given the drift of the Liberal Democrat leadership to the right on deficit reduction and the NHS. But that does not make it wrong.
• The present climate represents a unique opportunity for Labour, reaching out to swathes of voters who have deserted it since 2001. However, the party has to recognise that an increasingly fragmented electorate and the emergence of a multi-party system make coalition governments more likely. Recreating the ‘broad-based’ coalition of New Labour will be much harder. Labour must forge a new politics for a pluralist age, building new alliances across the centre and the left.
• Labour needs a coherent set of governing ideas that position the party both as an agent of security for the hard-working majority, and as a vehicle for progressive reform in British society. The paper makes the case for a ‘realist’ political strategy: a coherent perspective on what is happening to our society, combining a clear set of governing principles with a vision of the future. Since the 2010 defeat, the party has been caught between a tactical politics based on ‘spin’ and presentation, and a utopian politics based on vision and values.
Patrick Diamond is senior research fellow at Policy Network and Gwilym Gibbon Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.
Michael Kenny is professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London. He is writing here in a personal capacity.