A response to Tim Montgomerie: Part III
The conversation is getting a bit lively.
I read in the Daily Telegraph two weeks ago that: ‘The air of anxiety is palpable as Whitehall waits for the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. …. a consensus is emerging that the fiscal situation revealed by George Osborne will be even bleaker than expected’. ……one influential figure explains “It will be a moment of national peril.” Well you wouldn’t really detect this imminent shake down from your take on coalition success.
Radical school reform, dramatic health changes, overhaul of welfare and immigration, successful deficit reduction, flourishing private sector and job generation, the emancipation of the voluntary and charitable sector, the liberation of the family etc. The list goes on. Unfortunately, I just don’t see this in the changing character of the Country. Personally, I have a sense of foreboding about what lies ahead; it feels more like a country on tilt. Yet we have barely started.
Reading your last response I was reminded of the old saying: ‘We are on an irreversible trend towards greater freedom and decency. But of course all of that could change’. I obviously don’t see you as the Coalition’s Dan Quayle- that title belongs to Nick Clegg- rather it signals that we come at this from very different perspectives. Much of it will be judged empirically over the coming years. For you retrenchment is a growth strategy for national renewal, for me retrenchment without a growth strategy is a national disaster.
Don’t misunderstand this. I very much respect the rigour of the Tory analysis, indeed the consistency and manner by which you conduct yourself and the sense of energy on the right of your Party. The problem is that there is no ‘left’ left in your party; the ‘right’ appears mainstream as the centre of gravity hurtles towards it. This is not just me saying this – across the pond it is a commonplace argument within the right. Here it is argued by Professor Tim Bale in his thoughtful take on modern conservatism.
I agree Britannia Unchained is about swimming. Liberal economics has always been about water; I seem to remember it used to be about floating all the boats. It would be trite to talk about those who cannot swim, who are left to sink etc. Instead, I actually agree and think that David Cameron was trying to use ‘sink or swim’ in terms of our comparative economic challenges. However, as your patrician leader drives around Essex in his new white van it means his language must nudge him toward a ‘sink or swim society’. That is a conscious political choice on his part so as to get through the day, get down with the people and manage his party because there is no ‘left’ left.
Also I wouldn’t compare the mobility of capital – billions moving across time zones in split seconds and enough to capsize whole economies – and the mobility of labour which is tiny in comparison. Though this can reinforce a ‘kiss up, kick down’ politics on your side. Capital is very much more powerful than workers looking for employment; there is just no equivalence. Unfortunately, the young authors a priori position is always against labour- or ‘idlers’ in their parlance.
On the question of the state I would make two basic points. Arguably, the state we have now is the state that Margaret Thatcher created. When you deregulate an economy and when the market becomes a more powerful institution that starts to dominate society the state gets more centralised, more controlling and yet it also sweeps up more failure. It is a paradoxical legacy of Thatcherism – for example, you can see it in the Gove and Pickles centralisation today. Sure New Labour added to the Thatcherite state with its own centralising tendencies. So the British people got both barrels.
I’m for putting more trust in people and giving power back to them – this has a long history within Labour although often exiled. One Nation Labour is about deepening and extending democracy all the way down and all the way up. It doesn’t mean one nation under a powerful state nor one nation run by a paternalistic political class. We are looking to longer term change and a devolving of state power to the regions and the development of intermediary institutions to encourage economic growth. Moreover a key part of our work over the next year will be around the third sector, social enterprise and the cooperative movement to confront the car crash that was Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.
One Nation Labour is 100 per cent for a dynamic productive wealth creating private sector that creates decent jobs. We want banks to be responsive to British SMEs and to local communities so that people who lack resource can access capital. Coalition liberalism refracts into a hands off ‘nothing to do with us’ approach. There will be no proper recovery and no shared prosperity without the interests of employers, employees and civil society getting together to establish a common good and a path to jobs and growth. One Nation Labour is about being all in it together. Genuinely. That means creating more democratic forms of statecraft than New Labour. It means that in government we will govern in austerity through reciprocity and by involving people in decision making processes, and avoid the high handed slash and burn approach that washes all around us.
I totally agree that family is the emotional and relational heart of society. Ed Miliband’s ideas about a Living Wage came out of the day to day realities in East London and faith community concerns about the disintegration of the family and how much people need – literally – to live. Parents can’t spend time with their children and they struggle to make ends meet because too many are often working long hours for low wages. Living standards are in free fall for many people. This is quite unprecedented and has deeply worrying political implications for society. In contrast the economic liberal sees these as rational choices between work and leisure and your Britannia Unchained lot urge us simply to work harder. But here is the nuts.
Tax itself is a patriotic issue. Too many wealthy people and too many large companies take too much out and give back too little. We should apply this basic understanding of fairness to people on benefits and also individuals and companies who avoid paying tax. It could even apply to our political leadership who bail out to Panama, the Caymans or Geneva.
The best speech I have read for many years was by George W Bush called ‘The Duty of Hope’ in 1999; the foundational text of Compassionate Conservatism. The key words that built the speech were: duty, obligation, virtue and compassion; family, community, solidarity and nation. A Politics to build a common good. This is precisely the terrain that Cameron risks vacating and what One Nation Labour and Miliband seeks to occupy. It is this contest that really took shape this conference season. Let’s talk again in a year.
All the best