I continue to struggle in the aftermath of Brexit.
Not, necessarily, just because of the result – it was a long time coming, and perhaps has woken the individualised and consumerised winners of the last 30 years from their torpor.
But also because of where it leaves Labour – stuck, somewhere, fighting the battles of the 20th century.
I’m not sufficiently informed, connected or clever enough to know where the Labour party should go and to offer a view on where the destination is and how to get there. There’s also little I feel I can personally do to help steer or jump on board with where Labour should go. I do know, though, that (1) I have been a Labour party member since 1998; (2) even now, I’m not sure if there is another “party” I would want to belong to; and (3) the current party cannot be or do what it should.
I therefore continue to look for the best diagnoses of Labour’s current situation in order to understand it as well as I can, and for glimpses of what the future could be and how Labour might plot a course to get there.
Three pieces I’ve found particularly useful of late are from John Harris, Neal Lawson and Anthony Painter. Here they are on where we are:
1. John Harris in the Guardian:
As with the centre-left parties across Europe in the same predicament, Labour is a 20th-century party adrift in a new reality. Its social foundations – the unions, heavy industry, the nonconformist church, a deference to the big state that has long evaporated – are either in deep retreat or have vanished completely.
2. Neal Lawson on Open Democracy
Everything that once made Labour strong and the 1945 settlement possible; a unified working class, a bureaucratic system of governance (Fordism), memories of the war and the depression and the existence of the Soviet Union as a global counter to capitalism had gone. They have been replaced by forces inimical to traditional social democracy, namely financialisation, globalsiation, individualization and consumerisation. Labour, I argued, was a ‘Kodak party in a world of instagram’.
3. Anthony Painter:
The point is that the working class – Labour’s alleged base – is irrevocably split. Moreover, there is no going back now. The schism is permanent.
And here they are on where to go.
The left’s future will involve many Labour people, but also some in the Greens, Liberal Democrats – even one-nation Tories – and thousands of people with no affiliation at all. However it is organised, it will have to start with an understanding of the fact this is a crisis of democracy, and support a change to the electoral system and a move towards multi-party politics.
[We] must recognize that no single party or movement has all the answers. The future will not be imposed but negotiated. Most immediately it needs to be negotiated by all the progressive parties in a Progressive Alliance to try and counter the massive shift to the right we are experiencing.
Instead of expending energy on saving Labour, something entirely new is needed. Labour was a movement before it was a party and so should whatever replaces it from within or without be.
This movement would seek to build from the cities out. It would embrace pluralist progressives – from the remain labour working classes to social liberals. It would be a movement that sought to build the right networks and platforms for social justice.
A movement of citizens that would over time seek elected office, it would espouse democratic, economic and social reform…
This movement would demand a new social contract; the current state fails to support the reality of modern economic life and leaves families and whole communities locked in insecurity and poverty. These would be new platforms for economic security such as Basic Income and social mobility. Security and mobility would be seen as dependent upon one another- holding no one back, leaving no one behind.