Only Labour can deliver real freedom, available to all, argues a new Fabian Society pamphlet written by former cabinet minister Liam Byrne MP.
The left has won most of its historic battles by centring on the cause of freedom. From the Levellers to the Attlee government, freedom was the battle cry of their campaigns and lay at the heart of their vision.
But former Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne argues that the left has forgotten the power of freedom as an ideal – ceding it to a right that offers a shallow and corrupted version only available to a privileged few.
Equally, he argues that Labour must move on from ‘equality of opportunity’ to offer equality of security and power.
Byrne argues that the left has allowed the right to frame ‘freedom’ as being opposed to ‘equality’ and ‘social justice’ whereas freedom is in fact the goal of both such strategies.
This is why Byrne is calling for Labour to enshrine a new ‘Bill of Powers and Duties’. As the Conservatives defund public services, kick away the ladders of social mobility, weaken social insurance and propose to cancel basic protections, Byrne explains how the Left can now win an argument as Britain’s real party of freedom.
He is also calling for this approach to be enshrined in the totemic Clause IV of the Labour Party constitution, which Byrne argues should also enshrine a pledge for a Labour government to ‘do its best with the least it needs’.
The pamphlet proposes ten articles that make up the fundamental rights a modern citizen should be able to expect:
Article (1): Everyone has the right to liberty, security of person, to live free from fear of crime and to access justice. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law
Article (2): Everyone has the right to work, to gain a sufficient living by work, freely chosen or accepted, to just and favourable conditions of work, equal pay for equal work, and to protection against unemployment with the right to form and join trade unions.
Article (3): Everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and an adequate home of their own.
Article (4): Everyone has the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
Article (5): Everyone has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
Article (6): Everyone has a right to education, directed towards their full development including access to technical and vocational guidance and training programmes.
Article (7): Everyone has the right to respect in their personal, public professional and digital lives and for their private and supportive family life.
Article (8): Everyone has the right to be part of a strong, active community and to freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
Article (9): Everyone has the right be able to move around and access different places easily, enabled by a universal basic mobility.
Article (10): Everyone has the right to aspire to and to enjoy a continuous improvement of living conditions as material conditions allow.
Alongside this would sit five basic duties;
(1) Everyone has a duty to obey the law, in the exercise of their rights, to respect the rights of others and contribute to upholding the King’s Peace
(2) Everyone has a duty to pay the taxes they owe
(3) Everyone has a duty, when summoned, to serve on a jury
(4) Everyone has a duty to tell the truth under oath
(5) Parents have a duty to safeguard and promote the wellbeing of children in their care so that all children might flourish.
While some of these articles might be easier to deliver (and measure) than others, Liam Byrne proposes two ways in which Labour can centre these principles at the heart of everything they do.
First, by enacting the dormant clause one of the Equalities Act 2010 calling on public authorities to take account of socioeconomic inequality in decision making.
Second, by revising Clause IV of Labour’s constitution to include for the first time a commitment to equality – and an ambition to deliver it.
Pamphlet author Liam Byrne MP said:
“Freedom was the Left’s first cause. But since the 1970’s we lost our way and talked about other values instead.
“Yet reclaiming freedom is vital if we’re to spell out to voters exactly who we are and what we stand for. That’s the way we beat the charge we hear on the doorstep that somehow ‘we’re all the same’.
“We’re not. Down the ages, the left delivered liberty amidst the lottery of life by pulling society together to provide the things that each of us needs but few of us alone could ever afford. Whereas the Tories are the ‘me, me, me’ party, Labour has always been the ‘we’ party; the party of ‘us’.
“By harnessing our innate instinct to cooperate, the Left delivered both security for all – and power for each. And that’s what we need to do again.
“It’s how we deliver for modern times ‘the freedom to be you’.”
Fabian Society General Secretary Andrew Harrop said:
“Freedom is a fundamentally left-wing value because we are only truly free when that freedom is universal. This pamphlet makes a powerful argument for Labour to rediscover the case for freedom and put it at the heart not just of policy making, but of our fundamental approach to governing for the many.”
– Ends –
- Contact: Tom Beardwell, Office of Liam Byrne MP, 07399 154078 or Liam.Byrne.MP@parliament.uk
- Reclaiming Freedom will be available online from 19.00 at https://fabians.org.uk/publication/reclaiming-freedom/
- The pamphlet is published by the Fabian Society and edited by Kate Murray.
- The Fabian Society is Britain’s oldest political think tank. Founded in 1884, the society is at the forefront of developing political ideas and public policy on the left. The society is alone among think tanks in being a democratically-constituted membership organisation, with over 7,000 members. It is constitutionally affiliated to the Labour party.