Labour’s left struggles with it’s narrative….
Often on this blog the need for a distinctive Liberal Democrat narrative has been argued/discussed. However, if you thought we have problems (and I think we do have) then spare a thought for the Labour left which is conducting it’s post-mortem on the upcoming election seemingly already;
Adaptation to the political mainstream over the last one and a half decades was a strategy that gave short-term electoral success at the price of the long-term viability of social democratic politics. Recent national and European election results prove that this short-term success is over and that the crisis of social democratic politics has reached worrying levels indeed.
I can’t but agree with John Cruddas who writes above for LabourList. However, this isn’t a cause of the problem of social democracy but a symptom. Open Left illustrates this with its ‘Five Questions’;
Economy: Should the Left seek to shape a fundamentally different model of capitalism in the aftermath of the banking crisis and subsequent recession?
Ideology: Should the Left draw more on its social democratic or radical liberal traditions in looking to the future?
Equality: Should the equality that the Left now pursues be more focused on capabilities than just resources
Community: Should the Left seek to foster a shared sense of identity, morality and community, or embrace a diversity in each?
Power: Should the Left be collecting or dispersing democratic and political power in seeking to bring about change?
The first question illustrates the problem perfectly; what made social democracy/socialism distinctive was that it offered a clear alternative to capitalism not that it wanted to offer something slightly better. Even Blairism recognised the core appeal of the vision of a society radically changed in some of it’s syntax. Even in its reformist strands the goal was still clear; a transformation, not adaptation of society. Having lost what is distinctive about it; the left has simply lost its way and it’s narrative constitutes nothing more than a whimper. Really the first question should be this; does the recession show that there are not still fundamental flaws within capitalism that the left should articulate and address?
In terms of ideology it is perhaps time for something of a cross-fertilisation would be advisable with social democracy and liberalism learning from each other (social democracy relearning it’s commitment to liberty and democracy, liberalism learning that economic democracy and equality need to be fought for for liberty to mean anything). The rest of the questions are marked by the core lack of anything alternative to say; views on community, equality and morality stem from that core vision.
Until the left answers that question it’s narrative will remain a whimper…..