Is Labour finished?
To many people, this is a no-brainer. The story goes something like this. Labour will collapse in the North and will be squeezed out in the south by a resurgent Liberal Democrats, allowing the Conservatives to dominate the political landscape forever. Out of Labour’s ashes, a new political party will emerge, combining centrists from all three parties, rather like the SDP in the 1980s.
Let me say for the record, this is not Borgen or The West Wing. British politics is not going to become a multi-party system that will be easy to pick and choose, like ordering an Uber or renting from Airbnb.
Yes, Labour is going through a bad period. Yet, this period, if done right, can be a massive opportunity for the party to fundamentally rethink both its philosophy and relevance in tomorrow’s world. Why am I so optimistic about Labour? Well because Labour’s core values are still relevant when we examine the future economy and society.
The British economy is entering a period of transition. After a shift from manufacturing to services, we are on the cusp of a shift to an economy powered by technology. This has prompted many the doom-sayers to say, why do we need a party of workers, when automation is making workers redundant?
It is precisely for that reason, that now more than ever, we need a party of workers. Yes, the benefits of technology are immense, as we are now more connected than ever in our history. However, if capitalism is left unchecked then technological disruption can be dangerous. Over the next decades, it is plausible, that not only blue collar but white collar industries will be replaced by automation. Who will stick up for those people? The Conservative Party, a party dedicated to unleashing the power of the free-market?
Historically, it has been Labour’s mission to control the means of production. By this, the party of workers would in the words of Nye Bevan, obtain power so that it can give it away. A noble endeavour solidified by the creation of the NHS and Welfare State.
Labour’s salvation rests in what is dubbed, ‘Inclusive Capitalism’, that seeks to bring those at the margins of society, that are ignored in the economy back into the fold. Whether it be the laid off manufacture worker, whose job has been replaced by a robot, an Asian entrepreneur who struggles to get finance for his start-up or even a young family struggling to get onto the housing market.
The driving force between ‘inclusive capitalism’ is the same force that is behind humanity’s success. Edward O. Wilson in his magnificent work, The Social Conquest of Earth, points out that four species have dominated the earth in all its history; termites, ants, bees and humans. Why? All four species have all been co-operators. It is Wilson’s optimistic belief, that to meet the challenges of tomorrow, we must learn to cooperate more and that our common destiny is interdependent on each other.
In this time of sweeping change, what is needed is a movement that seeks to expand the definition of ‘us’ as a people and shrinks the definition of ‘them’. This is movement, that Labour is historically suited to lead, having been a product of the cooperative movement.
Yet, ‘inclusive capitalism’ starts with one simple foundation, that politics is about people. It is once said, that good politics starts with empathy, then proceeds to analysis, then sets out values and establishes the vision, before getting to the nitty-gritty of policy solutions. Labour on its long and winding road back to power must focus less on the end solution and more on connecting with the British public.
The party of working man, cannot relate to the working man’s interest. The perception of Labour is one of ‘out of touch’ and concerned with trivial issues that are of no concern to the people’s everyday lives. Many people do not give politics any concern whatsoever in their daily lives. Watching paint dry is probably more pressing on people’s priorities than wondering about the existential crisis of the Labour Party.
Ah, I hear you say, how can Labour put all this ‘inclusive capitalism’ talk into practice? Well, British politics, it is about Local Government, stupid. People are more concerned about pressing issues of fixing the potholes in the local road than an international aid to Africa.
In US politics, there is a large role for local politicians such as Governors, who are responsible for running the local state. Yet, localism is about to hit the fast lane in this country, as all the major UK cities are being pushed to adopt mayors. Already, cities like Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool, (all Labour seats) will be granted large powers to set tax and spending levels, a perfect platform for the party to finesse and hone this new philosophy.
Labour’s future is not over, not by a long stretch. Like any successful football club, political parties experience highs and lows. Furthermore, Labour is a party that has a strong emotional appeal.
Supporting Labour in the heartlands is passed down from family to family, just like supporting your local football team. That is something not to be dismissed as mere nonsense. Ask, any Liverpool or Newcastle resident, why they support their football team? Because their Dad did and their Grandad did before him. The same applies to politics.
Is the Labour Party in a bad position? Yes, but I am entirely optimistic about the party’s future. This is a party that survived the bleak period of the 1930s, where it ended up with 52 seats in 1931 election. Time and time again, this party was written off, before it entering Government in 1945 and 1997 with large landslides.
Labour only wins when it combines its radical roots with a vision for the future. Through a philosophy of ‘inclusive capitalism’, Labour can become a strong centre-left movement that has the vision for the future and the means to deal with it.