Fairer representation and recall must become core demands of the left

There is a strong traditional case for ditching our traditional voting system. Like many British traditions, is basically doesn’t work as the tradition apparently intends.

Whatever people think elections are, constitutionally and objectively they are about picking MPs who are representative in a parliament, which then decides whether to support a given government. It’s more complex than picking a president, and rightly so in my view. It encourages people to think more about what a local representative will do.

As long as we maintain a system of Parliamentary assent and consent, it’s important that those elected to it represent who people want to sit there.

The moral as well as the traditional case is strong, and I think but the mainstream and ‘outside’ left would profit greatly if they argue it.

For me this is not a side note to economic policy, but in the chartist model; it’s an acceptance that the constitutional and the economic cannot be divorced. Continue reading

The Labour leadership – some initial thoughts

Wow. What a thumping. There are clearly some exacerbating factors. Our complete collapse in Scotland (and the hammering in England we took for its consequences, unable to change the narrative) being some key ones.

The Blairites are placed in an ideal internal situation by Ed Miliband’s defeat. They are therefore making the running whilst the centre left, having advanced internally over the last decade, are stunned.

So now, people are talking about the leadership contest as if the economy is the only thing that matters.

It does. In particular, how do we create a high growth economy that works with society rather than against it, and protect the life progress that aspirational workers have already made? We had too little to say.

But there are several issues which are considerably more serious even than whether we win next time round, particularly around existential threats and secular decline. Continue reading

Solidarity with the Bolivarian revolutions

This piece from Colin Burgon MP on LabourList is worth a read.

I’m not sure models such as Venezuela are applicable to the economies or body politics of Western Europe – but I do think Colin Burgon is basically right to stress the importance of international solidarity with democratic socialist revolutions in Latin America.

I do think solidarity should be critical, and not vulgar or unthinking. But I have lots of caveats about lots of things.

As an example, I’m quite happy to disagree with Chavez and say that Iran, a state with a special line in repression and bigotry, is no friend of working people.

But that does not mean that a Chavista government should not be supported, and even more importantly the movmement which put it there and partly holds it accountable, because what really matters is the enormous and largely positive social change taking place there.

It’s also important to note, as Burgon points out, that this continent-wide process includes ‘pink’ revolutions in countries such as Brazil as well as ‘red’ ones in Venezuela, Bolivia and the like. Red or pink, each of them is characterised by electoralist, openly mandated and openly debated politics – something which should make democratic socialists a lot more comfortable about them than, say, Cuba. Yes, Chavez isn’t nice to some parts of the private press – small ones, it has to be said – but perhaps they shouldn’t take part in military coups. I couldn’t see ITV getting its license renewed in the same circumstances, to be honest.

The stunning stats in terms of social improvements, their repeated continent-wide democratic backing, and comparative lack of repression, make supporting these revolutionary processes worthy of those who believe both in democracy and socialism.

It saddens me that many within the Labour Party are quite happy to drop bombs on people, but not willing to show a bit of solidarity with those who propose feeding them (and put their ballot box where their mouth is as they go about it).

This is no internationalism that I recognise. So Burgon is right, on his core point at least.

This isn’t just the sort of thing Labour should be thinking about. Our direct sister party in Venezuela was involved in a military and media coup against the elected President, and has been pushing for the country to direct itself rightwards. It is a party of an old and corrupt Trade Union establishment, carved into the culture of the country as part of a succession of stitch-up governments held in place by oil barons.

Many of the ‘pink tide’ parties are affiliated to the Socialist International, of which Labour is part, but PSUV and the PT are not.

Instead, we have a proxy relationship with them through the Sao Paulo forum, which has consultative status at the SI.

In many ways, the politics of this organisation are similar to the so called 2½/Vienna International, which included Labour’s ancestor and sibling the ILP.

While there would be obvious difficulties joining with an organisation that is happy to include ‘tankie’ Communist Parties, The Socialist International nevertheless needs to develop better ways of cooperating with some of these parties on a regular basis. It must stop backing despotic coup makers, as it also did in Africa before that got inconvenient. This is not just Labour’s issue, but one for the democratic left worldwide.

Solidarity with these processes can’t just be reduced down to cult of personality style worship of various Presidents. It needs to include closer institutional working, and is an opportunity to reform the as yet tainted politics of the Socialist International, which in places are as close to despots as to the democratic left.

It’s notable that left support for these contemptibles is seldom mentioned – but solidarity with a particular President who is broadly speaking left wing, and who wins loads of elections, and who accepts defeats in his referendums, is so often the target of ‘decent‘ liberal condescension.

Instead, how about solidarity with a generation who would previously have been denied the right to read?

Predistribution and New Labour: a new hegemonic project?

I had many axes to grind with New Labour, which I thought fell short in a lot of areas. Most of all was the idea that being in office was all – a notion itself founded on the preconception that being in office meant that Labour, and perhaps by extension the movement it was born to express in parliamentary form, was in power.

Obviously the equation of office and power is not generally true (see Clegg, 2010), and was certainly not true when so much of New Labour was about fighting people who wanted often achievable and effective left policies.

In short, New Labour saw itself as being in government because it accepted the core premises of Thatcherism – in other words, it accepted the leadership and domination on policy of the conservative project and a conservative common sense. In other words, by its own admission, New Labour was an admission of conservative leadership of ideas, and domination of ideas – it accepted the hegemony, therefore, of the conservative project.

And if that is so, it cannot be that it had any kind of project to build or assert a hegemony of the left.

If you want to make the case that it did, it’s particularly hard to do, as many of the key politicians involved defined themselves as being in the ‘centre’ – rather than the ‘centre-left’ favoured by Kinnock/Smith era social democrats, ‘democratic left’ favoured by Gramscians and other ‘broad leftists’, and the ‘Labour left’ favoured by partisan traditionalists of both the Benn/Briefing and Foot/Tribune varieties.

It proudly accepted conservative hegemony in many senses, as well as defined itself as the centre (a centre, it must be remembered, forged by Thatcher). It thus opposed broad structural hegemony for the left on two separate but related grounds.

Part of the reason that it was necessary for parts of the thinking left to be on the left of the party in the first place, therefore, was to ditch the strategy of New Labour not for some abstract failure of general policy, but for strategic reasons. It was necessary to move the party leftwards to ditch a disciplined, top down and self interested project that was counter-hegemonic for the left in the long term. Whether it had the strategy right for winning elections is one debate, but whatever the outcome, it had no strategy for winning the country, and even if it did, it would for winning the country to the centre (i.e the general balance of how it is already) rather than any permutation of the left.

It was necessary to ditch New Labour because as well as leaving left voters with nowhere to go by appropriating their natural party, it was against the interests of the whole movement within the country in the long term. It was not strategic to any structural end shared by the left.

So, I’m glad we have Ed Miliband, and I was glad to vote for him at the time. It’s good to see that others are too.

And after a bit of a educational non-debate with a friend on facebook (we both agreed with each other), I was left thinking about ‘predistribution’ – and how well it fits into a more ambitious, hegemonic style of social democracy.

First things first. The name. People don’t like it, because it’s a wonk word. But I feel that around half of the people who say that should simply go away. Why? Because they spent years plugging something called ‘public service reform’, including such populist notions as ‘foundation hospitals’ and ‘internal markets’. Something you always hear from people down the pub, no doubt.

None of these names are good, and that is certainly important for an idea to gain currency. It is a wonk word, and hardly an everyday topic. But I can’t think of a better one that is as general. So for now, ‘predistribution’ will do.

An idea with hegemonic potential

There are several advantages from the point of view of hegemonic strategy (and note at this point that I am reproducing facebook)…

Like the Scandinavian social democracy admired by the soft left, it firstly offers a way to transpose the institutions of the left into the economy, thus providing a fundamental change to the temporally immediate class structure of local capitalism, and increasing hegemonic potential – a dual benefit. Cooperatives. Unions. Management board modifications. Shareholder transparency.

But secondly, I think it underscores rather than diminishes the role of redistribution as well as predistribution more strongly than redistribution can itself (via discourse)… predistribution implies that there is something wrong about how we are paid and treated in a way that is not immediately evident to people simply because they pay progressive tax rates or receive working family tax credit. As well as offering the organising and material base as per the paragraph above, it also pushes the argument that capitalism produces unjust and inadequate outcomes right into our everyday lives. It forces people, especially those reliant on wages, to question the equity and suitability of their situation. This leads to emphasis on collective redistribution as much as it does predistribution itself.

As such, it has the potential to actively attack the current common sense around distributive justice, as well as having two different ways to embed a new one.

So for me, leaving aside the impact on party politics, there are three cultural and organisational reasons to see this as a really exciting intellectual project.

And it’s free.

And it means that some of the huge pile of corporate savings might be released back into the real economy.

Stuff Blue Labour, this is where it’s at.