Saturday, 4 December 2010

A Reply to Harris and Lawson

Good to see debate. This is from the Labour Uncut blog.

You don’t build the future by trashing the past
by Will Straw

With Labour still recovering from its second worst defeat in 90 years, now is the time for a thorough reassessment of what the left stands for. The policy review and reforms to party structures that Ed Miliband has announced should be welcomed. Before ink is spilled on the “blank sheet of paper”, time should be taken to debate and consider a range of different perspectives on the future direction of the left.

The five-point plan set out in Neal Lawson and John Harris’ essay in this week’s New Statesman should therefore be welcomed. But by trashing new Labour’s record with little consideration of the many achievements that 13 years in power delivered, Lawson and Harris risk alienating a group of reformers who could, in other circumstances, find common cause with their mission. The Labour party could easily unite around a programme dedicated to defeating inequality, building a new model of capitalism, localising public services, tackling climate change, and creating a more pluralistic politics – as Lawson and Harris suggest. But their approach is not the way to get there.

In their essay, Lawson and Harris write:
“New Labour stayed in office for 13 years because the world economy
was so strong and the Tories were so weak. But even in such benign
circumstances, the poor got poorer and the planet burned … The only
plan they had was to stoke a finance-driven, lightly regulated economy,
and then surreptitiously take the tax skim to fund social programmes”.

What a simplistic view of Labour’s time in office. Few saw the financial crash coming; even fewer set out the remedies in advance of the Lehman’s collapse. Adverse criticism of new Labour around 2003 was primarily concerned with the war in Iraq and the marketisation of public services; not the reregulation of the City. Basel I and II passed without a murmur. Where was the compass paper in 2005 calling for a ban on short selling or a British uptick rule prior to 2007? Twenty-twenty hindsight is a fine thing but those who call now for a new form of capitalism should be more realistic about the collective hubris of the boom years.

More here.

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