Tribune, 7 August 1992
Defending the welfare state is all very well, but it is not enough if Labour wants to win elections, argues Paul Anderson
With its leadership contest over, its new front bench team in place and the To­ries in disarray on the economy, it makes some sense for Labour to put behind it the soul-searching that followed the debacle of April 9 and to concentrate on attacking the government.
But it would be foolish for Labour to put everything into the promised summer offensive against John Major and forget the longer term. Even if a succession of opinion polls shows Labour under John Smith well ahead of the To­ries, the severity of the election de­feat will still demand some serious thinking about how Labour should pitch its appeal if it is to have a hope of winning in 1996 or 1997.
So far, unsurprisingly, most of the contributions to the debate about Labour’s predicament have been concerned with what went wrong in 1992. For want of better explanations, it is generally ac­cepted that the defeat had some­thing to do with certain key voters not trusting Labour and other key voters feeling that Labour would do nothing for them.
Beyond this consensus, however, has been little but sweeping statements of the continuing validity of Labour’s values and bickering about which details of style or sub­stance should have been changed for Labour to do better. Hardly anyone has dared to suggest that Labour’s whole strategy needs to be changed for the next election: that, instead of organising its ap­peal to voters around the core of defence of the welfare state, as it has done since the mid-eighties, it should adopt a radically different approach.
Yet that is precisely what Labour needs. Instead of falling back on defence of the welfare state, the party must frame its programme for 1996 or 1997 with Europe and economic policy at the core and significant roles for environmentalism and democratisation.
The future of Europe was barely mentioned during the election campaign, mainly because of a general sense among politicians that only they are interested.
On the detail of the Common Agricultural Policy (or even the Maastricht treaty), such a view is probably correct. But there are good reasons for questioning it in other areas. The perception that Britain lags behind its EC part­ners in wages, technology, social provision, transport, culture – in fact, just about every indicator of prosperity – is widespread among the public. Unease about the To­ries’ lukewarm attitude to the whole project of European union is commonplace. So too, however, is the notion that the EC as currently constituted is remote, bureaucratic and undemocratic.
Labour can tap all these feelings by articulating a vision of a Britain fully committed to a democratic federal Europe in which:
  • the European Parliament is giv­en massively increased powers at the  expense  of the  intergovern­mental Council of Ministers and the non-elected Commission;
  • the   principle   of  subsidiarity (maximum appropriate decentrali­sation of decision-making) is applied not to empower national gov­ernments but to give a greater role to elected regional and local government;
  • a high priority is given to widen­ing the EC to include the countries of the European Free Trade Area and the former Soviet bloc.

Economic strategy
On its own, however, a radical shift in Labour’s position on the political organisation of Europe is not enough. The economic poten­tial of Europeanisation needs to be tapped.
Put crudely, Labour’s main problem hi the 1992 election was popular disbelief in the efficacy of its proposed remedies for Britain’s economic crisis. Labour was still considered by a large number of its target middle-class voters to be in­capable of managing the economy, while many working-class voters, traditionally its core supporters, did not reckon that the party’s rather timid proposals would do anything to put the country back to work. Labour’s economic policy came over as essentially a policy for redistribution – tax and bene­fits – and nothing else.
This was mainly because Labour’s economic advisers were saying, quite rightly, that there was no hope of a Labour govern­ment being able to put some sort of late-seventies-style alternative economic policy into practice. As President Francois Mitterrand found to his cost in the early eight­ies, Keynesianism in one country is no longer feasible.
Labour’s problem was that it had nothing to replace Keynesian­ism in one country as an approach to managing the economy. “Sup­ply-side” measures apart, it really was reduced to offering redistribu­tion and nothing else.
Just about the only way round this is to develop a Europe-wide reflationary economic strategy, ini­tially to be carried out intergovernmentally but to be transferred to democratically accountable Euro­pean institutions as soon as possi­ble.
Of course, Labour could not de­velop such a strategy on its own, let alone implement it: it would, at very least have to draw its sister European social democratic parties into the frame and would almost certainly have to go further, bring­ing in non-party economists as well as sympathetic Christian Democrats and liberals.
The Europeanisation theme can be carried still further if Labour frames its plans for constitutional reform in the language of catching up with the democracies of our EC partners. First-past-the-post elec­tions for parliament, an unelected second chamber and rigid central­ism make British democracy a laughing stock throughout the EC.
The idea that “electoral reform” lost Labour the last election and should therefore be shunned is ut­terly without foundation. Certain­ly, Labour leaders made fools of themselves a week before polling day by refusing to give straight an­swers about the party’s intentions, but that was a matter of indeci-siveness tinged with opportunism, not electoral reform.
It is also doubtless true that the prospect of a Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition government put off many disillusioned Tory sup­porters who were toying with the idea of voting Liberal Democrat. That was simply a by-product of the closeness in the opinion polls of the two main parties, which in­evitably led to media speculation about possible governing coali­tions.
Labour should move as quickly as possible to adopt the Additional Member System for the House of Commons, regional assemblies and the Scottish and Welsh parlia­ments. This is the only system to combine one-member constituen­cies and proportionality. The party should propose a new federal sec­ond chamber composed of repre­sentatives of the regional assem­blies.
This is essentially the structure of the German political system. Its advantages in delivering stable growth and affluence to its citizens could be exploited ruthlessly by Labour.
But electoral reform and regional­ism are not the only elements of the democratisation programme that Labour should develop. One of the biggest successes of the Tory Party in the past 13 years has been to persuade people that it stands up for those who feel pow­erless in the face of state bureau­cracy.
The right-to-buy scheme for council tenants persuaded thou­sands that the Tories meant to give people control over the things that most affected their everyday lives. Opt-out schools could play a similar role in the nineties.
Labour has to develop a populist anti-bureaucratic politics of the Left. This does not mean reluctant­ly accepting Tory measures as faits accomplis. Nor does it mean mere­ly adopting a rhetoric of opposition to “vested interests” or simply promising entrenched rights. Labour has to take the initiative across the board with bold, tangi­ble proposals for empowerment in every sphere.
Giving people a greater say at work – with a programme to en­courage rapid growth of producer co-operatives and democratic em­ployee share-ownership schemes, a commitment to a “co-determina­tion” model of industrial relations, and policies to give new rights to trade unionists and to members of pension schemes – must be a prior­ity.
So must proposals to encourage self-build housing schemes and self-management of housing for those unwilling or unable to buy, measures to democratise and de­centralise local government and the health and education services, and policies to increase consumer rights far beyond what is envis­aged by the government’s various charters.
The goal of empowerment should be central to Labour’s Com­mission on Social Justice, which must be a fundamental review of the party’s approach to tax and benefits and not an excuse merely to chip away at the principle of universality hi welfare provision.
Universality is essential if the welfare system is to give people the sense of security that is the prerequisite for confident au­tonomous action. For Labour to ac­cept the Tory view that all we need is a minimal “safety net”, means-tested welfare system would be disastrous. Indeed, there is a strong case to be made for extend­ing rather than reducing the scope of universality by adopting a basic income scheme as the core of a new welfare settlement.
The environment was another big issue notable by its absence from the 1992 general election cam­paign. The consensus among the politicians, apparently borne out by the opinion polls, was that in the middle of a recession voters are less concerned with global warm­ing than with jobs and mortgages.
Whatever the truth of this con­sensus, it is likely that the next election will not be taking place in a recession and that worries about the environment among voters will be even more widespread than in the late eighties.
Meanwhile, the need for govern­ment action, especially on global warming, will have become more urgent and more apparent, much to the embarrassment of the To­ries, with their attachment to non­intervention and “letting market forces decide”.
Once again, Labour has an op­portunity to seize the initiative by developing an alternative pro­gramme, particularly on energy, where Labour should go for giving a massive boost to research into sources of renewable energy, and transport, where the need to re­duce carbon dioxide emissions meshes perfectly with Labour’s en­thusiasm for public transport. Once again, the British government’s poor record compared with most of our EC partners should be  a focus for Labour’s attack.
With the end of the cold war, the government is making severe cuts in defence spending. We have al­ready seen massive redundancies among defence sector workers and there are many more to come.
Labour’s response so far has been cautious in the extreme. The party promised a defence diversification agency at the 1992 election but, largely because an inordinate amount of time had been spent ar­guing about who would oversee it, very little work had been done on what the agency would actually do. Developing the proposal for a DDA is now a high priority.
But Labour needs more than just a policy for the defence indus­try: it has to work out what Britain’s defence needs really are. Calling for a full defence review and arguing that British nuclear weapons should be included in multilateral arms reduction nego­tiations might have worked as a holding operation in the run-up to the last election but in the next five years the party will have to go much further.
The whole security system in Europe is in a state of crisis. With the Soviet threat no more, the Balkans torn by war and ethnic tensions in the former Soviet Union threatening to explode, NATO is desperately searching for a role in the post-cold-war world. Pressure is growing for the devel­opment of the Western European Union into the main security or­ganisation on the continent. With the current pace of nuclear arms reduction talks, the time is fast ap­proaching when the other nuclear powers demand that French and British nuclear forces are included in negotiations.
Labour needs to do some deep thinking: first, about what it wants (and what is needed) from a new European security system and, secondly, about its precise ne­gotiating positions on nuclear arms. In both cases, its delibera­tions should be informed by the conviction that the demilitarisa­tion of international relations is the best way of ensuring lasting peace and security.
All this does not in itself add up to a detailed programme for Labour in the next five years. But it is, I hope, the basis for a coher­ent and credible left agenda for the mid-nineties and beyond, with plenty to appeal to working-class and middle-class voters. Does any­one out there agree?
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