PROGRESSIVE FUSION, PROGRESSIVE SCHMUSION

In response to Sunder Katwala's article here, it remains to be seen how David Milliband develops his ideas into a governing strategy, but at least someone with imagination and intellectual engagement would be infinitely preferable to a simple 'sway with the wind' time-server like Jack Straw.

I must say though that, in all the talk of Blairites and Brownites, nowhere is the sufficient recognition of the depth and scale of the sheer anger and resentment at the party within our core heartlands. To reverse this, it's no good just talking the talk about "change", values, progressive fusion or whatever else: it needs to be made resoundingly clear from a series of concrete measures that Labour is prepared to break from the tyranny of neoliberal fatalism. This can be caricatured as a "shopping-list" but it is about demonstrating in practical and demonstrable steps that the government is prepared to intervene and prioritise public goods over corporate profit.

"Change" is not a positive value in and of itself. Change, at a relentless and bewildering pace, is the hallmark of the global economy. Down-sizing and outsourcing are "change", but working people want concrete social and economic rights to prevent a race to the bottom. In some ways, Labour needs to recover its core mission, and adapt this to new circumstances, not to reinvent itself totally in some postmodern spirit of endless mutability.

And finally, "Blairite pluralism" and Brown's big-tent politics have been utterly maladroit in their choices of allies. Yes, they've worked with people like Bernie Ecclestone, Richard Branson, Digby Jones. and all the various PFI contactors - but precious little in terms of serious engagement with other progressive parties, NGO's, trade unions etc. It's notable that the exceptions to this (the LIb/Lab coalition in Scotland that stopped tuition fees; the Lab/Plaid coalition in Wales that has had a moratorium on PFI; the Lab/Green productive alliance on environmental issuies in London) have all been facilitated via proportional electoral systems.

This suggests if we really want to overcome self-defeating factionalism and "change the way we do politics", we could show some real courage and imagination by embracing PR. It would mean that our campaigns would cease to be addressed to the "few" (the swing voters in marginal seats"). Instead, a PR would incentivise the party for picking up votes in every corner of the land, including making it worthwhile to campaign for votes in our own core areas. This could have a dramatic impact not only on the style of our campaings, but on breaking the arm-lock of the Daily Mail readership over the kind of policies we feel able to win an election around.

Blair ducked it, and Brown's "Governance of Britain" appears to be running aground into pretty marginal tinkering. Don't get me wrong - electoral reform is not sufficient in and of itself to "do politics differently". But without it, nice sounding words like "pluralism" and "progressive fusion" wil ring a little hollow.

By Michael Calderbank, Electoral Reform Society and Votes for 16 Coalition

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