Labour enters this election travelling light. It has a handful of decent policy pledges, mainly recycled from Ed Miliband’s manifesto and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns. But election policies are meant to be the icing on the cake.
The cake itself is the thinking and feeling that imbues the party; the relationships it builds and the images and stories it conjures; its worldview, its diagnosis and its intellectual toolkit. None of these change of their own accord: for a party to rebuild after electoral defeat it takes soul-searching, future-gazing and patient listening, things which have not happened since 2015.
Even in normal times, two years would not be sufficient to complete a pre-election journey of change, re-examination and reconnection. And these times are not normal. Labour has been distracted by its civil war, able neither to look to the future nor to offer a single coherent impression to the people. Additionally, the Brexit vote has upended Labour’s assumptions and priorities and further alienated the party from culturally conservative voters who used to be a bedrock of support.
But a manifesto needs to be written nonetheless, which is why the Fabian Society is launching our General Election series on the key issues that will define the election debate. We’ll be commissioning contributors to present their pitches for Labour’s manifesto on all the most important policy questions.
We are also inviting our members and readers to propose their idea for an election pledge card. A fortnight ago we launched this as a nostalgic exercise designed to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1997 election. Now our search for pithy one-liners for an election campaign is real, so please submit your thoughts and we’ll publish the best as an inspiration for the party.
To develop policies fast Labour will need to devour all the scraps of new thinking at its disposal. For example, the early ideas from the Fabian Society’s programme on the left in the 2020s need to be turned from broad outlines into specific policies. A year ago, before Brexit, I wrote an essay which sketched out the goals for a future left agenda for the 2020s. What was meant to be preliminary thinking for long-term renewal now serves as a check-list for a Labour manifesto.
A Fabian Society future left agenda – originally published in Future Left edited by Andrew Harrop and Ed Wallis (2016)
1. A new mixed economy…based on government leadership and fair, open markets, with public coordination, investment and capacity building, and intervention to reduce and pool risk and redistribute power.
Leadership and coordination
- use investment, regulation and market signals to steer the economy in pursuit of long-term goals, above all decarbonisation
- create government-industry partnerships to reshape sectors, jobs and skills
- target full employment and asset price stability with monetary and fiscal policy
Investment and capacity
- significantly increase public investment on infrastructure, development and innovation, in ways that crowd-in private spending
- promote new public, mutual or non-profit players in failing markets like housebuilding or energy to boost capacity and change behaviours
Risk and economic power
- use regulation to challenge the market power of dominant incumbents
- initiate new opportunities for worker and consumer collectivism to redress imbalances in economic power and spread ownership and responsibility
- re-create ways to share economic risks, from collective pensions to job creation programmes
2. A modern welfare state…for new risks, needs and expectations. With a good pensions system now in place the priorities are meeting health-related needs, supporting living standards before pension age and ensuring affordable housing for all.
Meeting health-related needs
- integrate health, care and disability support, in a way that maximises personal control
- secure consent for higher public spending, by creating earmarked ‘health taxes’
- robustly regulate and ‘nudge’ to improve the nation’s health
Financial support before pension age
- commission a new Beveridge plan for working-age protection that reflects modern economic risks
- introduce extra tiers of contribution-based benefits and lifetime accounts
- consider how to merge tax reliefs and universal credit into a single system of financial support
- drive a massive increase in housebuilding, in sustainable, mixed communities, by increasing land supply and construction capacity
- promote large-scale borrowing for social housebuilding, through gilts or special ‘housing bonds’, secured against future rents and housing benefit savings
3. Expand equality and freedom…with respect to opportunities, wealth and power, through education that equalises life chances; interventions to redistribute wealth; policies that give people practical power, status and control over their lives.
Life chances and education
- support stronger relationships and parenting, including more time with children, especially for fathers
- demand world-class teaching, facilities and curriculum for the bottom third, so no child is set up to fail
- focus support in teenage years on ambition, emotional wellbeing and cultural capital
- create credible skills and work pathways for every young person aged between 18 to 24
- create nudges and subsidies for low and middle earners to save and build assets, especially younger generations
- reform financial and monetary policy to target stable house prices with the aim of reversing the decline in homeownership
- significantly increase the taxation of land, assets and large pension savings
- develop ideas for UK sovereign wealth funds
Power, status and participation
- spread people power within public services, including personal control and collective leadership
- increase participation and power for employees in more collaborative workplaces
- broaden and deepen institutions of local civil and political participation
4. Rebuild trust and connection in society…by nurturing collectivism in people’s everyday lives, reforming political institutions to share and devolve power and creating a left politics derived from conservative as well as liberal cultural instincts with respect to security, tradition, patriotism and migration.
- demand fundamental organisational and cultural change within political parties, so they speak with conviction, and work alongside communities and civic society
- embrace an approach to politics focused on institutions and communities not policy levers
- investigate reforms to democratic institutions to bring politicians closer to people’s lives
- adopt radical and coherent devolution of money, responsibility and democracy to cities and counties with a strong sense of community
- lead debates with confidence on English identity and be open-minded about future England-wide and regional governance
- make credible promises on managed migration, including lower annual immigration than today
- work with employers to make them less dependent on migrant labour and exploitative employment relationships
- take a tough approach to integration, focused on the responsibilities of newcomers