A progressive manifesto should make a positive case for the state….

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are at the stage of formulating their manifesto. Nick Clegg has promised the Liberal Democrat one will put ‘fairness’ at its centre meanwhile, Labour is promising its most radical manifesto ‘ever’.

Both will include the usual pot-pourri of promises. However, I believe they should encompass one central theme. Sunder Katwala makes a very relevant point;

‘Big government’ is often attacked as political rhetoric. In the abstract, we all like to be agin it.

Yet, on every specific issue, from child protection to the collapse of the banks, most of the public calls are very often for government to do more.

Sunny Hundal asks what Labour’s narrative should be, well here lies the genesis of a potential progressive narrative;  a potential ‘Back-to-the-Future’ positive defence of the state and state action to address social ills for Labour and its embrace by the Liberal Democrats. Of course, this should be familiar turf for the Labour Party but the Blair years saw an odd-triangulation where the market was worshipped and the state and state power was extended mainly negatively in response to the ‘war on terror’.

However, this narrative cannot be achieved until a fly  is removed from the ointment. I see the current panic around the scale of the national debt as a largely media and Conservative driven moral panic whose purpose is to unseat Labour and pave the way for a drastic reduction in the states action. However, all three main parties, including Labour have excepted the parameters of the discourse without challenging it and this will fatally undermine attempts to cohere a narrative on the lines I have outlined above. An ideological argument requires an ideological response.

If it is to succeed in this it must do the politically unthinkable and challenge the conventional wisdom that the immediate priority is to ‘cut the deficit’ and instead make the case that this should only be the case when the economy has recovered to such a point that this begins to occur not as a result of swinging cuts but as a result of organic growth. It might like to illustrate its point by reminding people that governments almost always run a deficit and remind people that this one was incurred saving a system which despite its many faults they depend upon.

Of course, it should be going further in exacting a price from the banking sector for this support but nonetheless to accept the terms of debate as they are is playing on Cameron’s home –turf and akin to political suicide. In making this case it could do alot worse than pay some attention to the arguments of the likes of David Blanchflower who argues;

“There remains a danger of a double-dip recession if stimulus is removed too quickly.”

It would thus undermine the Conservatives credibility on the economy while at the same time expanding the horizons for the possibility of articulating some ‘core values’. For example, a promise of targeted investment in green industry, a re-balanced taxation system etc, etc would offer a positive vision for the ‘core’ vote to sign-up too while also potentially providing a basis for a ‘coalitionable’ manifesto between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. This is especially true if it was also to include proposals for constitutional reform and concessions from Labour on civil liberties issues.

However, none of this will be possible while either leadership accepts the basic premise that the priority of the next government should be to cut the budget deficit and despite making occasional squeaks to the contrary this is exactly what Brown and Co actually do thus they hasten their own defeat at the hands of Cameron’s Conservatives. Both parties need to show some political courage now; it needs to tell people things they might not want to hear, that if they want certain things the price they have to pay for that is the state doing the ‘heavy lifting’ to a certain degree. I think if they do they might find people more willing to listen than the right imagines….


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About darrellgoodliffe


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