winning the new progressive consensus

Following the two byelection victories and the outpour by grass roots Conservatives on David Cameron, we realise that people may like style (think "cocktails with cameron"), but they know they need substance. And this is why winning the new progressive consensus needs to be rooted in values that embody greater equality and democracy and policies that connect with people's everyday lives.

and this what we addressed at our debate on winning the new progressive consensus with Jon Cruddas MP; Jon Trickett MP; Neal Lawson; Fiona Mactaggart MP; Baroness Helena Kennedy QC (chair); Billy Hayes, General Secretary, CWU

We need to recognise that the consensus is not about building a vision based on the power of weak ties (who isn't in favour of choice or opportunity?) and a strategy of triangulation (always meeting the other party half-way). Indeed, should we be wheeling and dealing our values just to reach a fabled consensus, if we have to concede on a more equal and democratic society?

We should also stop making assumptions about the electorate. The assumptions that southerners are "so prosperous, so comfortable and so self-centred that all they want to be is demanding consumers whether at the supermarket or in public services"... the imaginary Mondeo Man or Worcester Woman. In reality, many would vote for policies like Surestart (childcare more costly there), affordable housing (ditto) and a living wage (more temp/agency work) for example. The assumptions that marginals and lower middle classes are the key to a Labour victory, when our support amongst lower middle class voters has dropped by 9 percentage points since 2001 but that it has also dropped by 8 points amongst working class voters. Maybe we need to start treating people like the citizens that they are, with their complexities and contradictions.

We need to recognise the ambuiguity of preaching a new progressive consensus. This cannot be the same consensus as Labour enjoyed in the 20th century, primarily based on class and labour structures, not the same consensus as the triangulation towards a virtual magnetic centrism, where people are led to confuse Blair with Cameron, both professing the dawn of this fabled progressive consensus.

A new progressive consensus should be inviting, inspiring and emancipating

We need not only to include but invite all progressives, especially those excluded from political and civic participation, whether by lack of access or interest. For this to happen, it needs to be make sense to them, that connects to their everyday lives and their moral values. It also needs to be worthwhile for them, that they can make a difference in a way which is accessible and purposeful. It needs to instill a sense of enthusiasm and emancipation, that by working with others towards this common endeavour, they can contribute to emancipating others by emancipating themselves.

We need narrative about what we mean by progressive and what this might look like in practice. Progress can be objective - improvement of what exists currently - or subjective - improvement towards a vision of what we strive for. Therefore "our" vision progress should be about continuously looking towards building a more equal and democratic society. In other words, we need to build a consensus that focuses on the vision or outcomes we want to achieve and to improve the means to get there...and we also need to influence as much as adapt to so called objective progress (such as globalisation).

How do we get there?

We do need to build on our government's successes. Our policy - a consistently strong economy, high employment, improved public services. Our narrative - whether on taxation, public spending, the minimum wage, social values, constitutional change and international development, the Conservatives have nothing left to argue about, because these are now key to what people want from government. We then also need to ask ourselves, if what matters is indeed what works, why are we not being bolder about the values that encompassed these policies?

What matters is also what doesn't work and we need to recognise the previous government's failures. More importantly, what we think works or doesn't at any certain time needs to be seen within the context in which we live in, with the ever changing and ever more complex needs and expectations of our citizens.

Trying to minimise these expectations or exclusively targeting individualistic approaches to common problems do not solve issues which are interconnected between citizens and dependent on common endeavour.

We need to channel those expectations through enabling easier and better ways for our citizens and communities to influence politics and government, we need greater political equality. Especially when the lowest social classes engage four times less in civic activism and twice as less in civic participation as the highest social classes. As Paul Skidmore says, "not only are the least well off less likely to be active participants, but fewer and fewer are even choosing to spectate". If we are building a progressive consensus, then how can we enable people to participate in helping build it?

We could build this consensus by

* enabling all members to shape the future manifesto so we can better connect with the public and campaign for our party - inspired by experiences such as Desirs d'Avenir and PASOK and democratising the channels of influence in the Party

* reaching out to those who share our values but not our party into the progressive coalition - learning the lessons of coalitions such as London Citizens and acting as a community hub

* devolving power to the members so their everyday experiences and connections into communities can inform our party and our policies - building on Choose Change and activist versions of Patient Opinion to create two-way channels of communication to the people our policies aim to help

* provide a flexible and accountable approach to renewal by all party structures - where everyone is tasked with identifying their "roadmap for renewal" from the leadership to the CLPs - and what support they need to implement it

* engaging people in a way which reconciles the tensions between their interest in social issues and distrust of party politics and enabling them to better experience democracy - people want the opportunity to participate when they want to and to not have to participate when they don't want to

What better way to put the debate to the floor than to quote Robin Cook:

"Renewal must be about more than reviving party political support for Labour. It must also offer a prospect of giving politics back a sense of excitement, and rekindling the interest in the political system. That means a return to value-based politics . .. political choice is about the kind of society in which voters want to live, and the good society is not defined by its pass rate on performance indicators, but by the values that shape it."

Noel Hatch - Compass Youth


Nancy Jacobson said...

On the substance/style thing, let me know what you think of my first blog post.