Opinion: After the Crash – Re-inventing the Left in Britain

Jonathan Rutherford and Richard S. Grayson are the editors of a new book, After the Crash Re-inventing the Left in Britain, available to download as an e-book here. Here they write about why they think all progressive voters need to join together to defeat neo-liberalism in all walks of life.

The election approaches and Britain begins the long haul out of deep recession. In such a crisis, one would expect an alternative to neo-liberalism to be riding high in the polls. Instead, the party which is ahead, the Conservative Party, offers no alternative. The Labour leadership differ only by degrees.  It too shares the same desire to minimise change.

And yet the political fault-lines of a new era are beginning to take shape.

On one side are those who continue to believe that the market and individual choice are the most effective means of governing people and maximising individual freedom.

On the other side are those who believe that individual freedom must be rooted in greater equality, social relationships and the democracy of public action.

This fault-line cuts across party lines and divides them from within: Thatcherite politics versus compassionate Conservatism; market Liberal Democrats versus social Liberal Democrats; neoliberal New Labour versus social democratic Labour. 

In the decade ahead we will need a progressive government that is much more resilient than New Labour in identifying its enemies and standing up to them. Real change will require a strong government and a stronger democracy that has widespread active support. This can only happen if we build alliances and develop a broad progressive consensus of opinion and rediscover our capacity for collective change.

There are tens of thousands of members of the Labour Party, Green Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, and the SNP, along with progressive people in no party, who are prepared to discuss this kind of coalition politics. 

Social Democrats, social liberals and greens have some fundamental political aims in common.  We all want to build a society in which individuals have more life chances, and we all fear for the future of the planet.  We all believe that a more equal society is absolutely essential to secure these aims, and we all believe that greater democracy is crucial in giving people power, voice and the ability to secure more freedom and a sustainability economy. 

The future of progressive politics in Britain is too important to leave to political parties alone. They are necessary but they are not sufficient.

Whatever the result of the next general election, we need to create a common ground for a progressive coalition of ideas and action. Without this coalition the political agenda will remain unchallenged. Without this coalition, there will be no deep rooted hinterland of support to sustain a future progressive government. It will be quickly blown off course by events. It will buckle beneath the sustained attack of the right wing media or it will be sabotaged by a conspiracy in the money markets.

Our task is to reverse the decades long transfer of wealth and power from the great majority of people to the financial sector, global corporations and a tiny rich elite. It means defeating neo-liberalism, not just politically, but in the spheres of intellectual life, culture, society and economy. 

* ‘After the Crash Re-inventing the Left in Britain’ edited by Jonathan Rutherford and Richard S. Grayson is available to download, free, as an e-book here. Contributors: Jon Cruddas, Caroline Lucas, Steve Webb, Neal Lawson, Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey, Richard S. Grayson, Jonathan Rutherford, Alan Finlayson, Jonathon Porritt, Leanne Wood, Richard Thomson, Stuart White.

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