What does ‘Socialism’ mean to Ed?
There has been many a re-hash of the ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ in politics with the odd switch over. From Keynes and Hayek to Marx and Durkhiem there have been new ideas around what is Left and Right, a debate still ongoing today.
So when Ed Miliband recently vowed to ‘bring Socialism back to Britain’ he brought the debate back into the limelight. Does that mean that Labour are nationalising all our main industries on day one of entering government and reinstating ‘Clause 4’? … No, but for once nationalisation isn’t off the table.
So how is this Socialism?
There is a simple answer to what Ed is doing here and what Socialism is, or what he means when he talks about Socialism. It is not the usual spiel about social justice and public ownership. There has been no commitment to ownership of the means of production or claiming the full fruits of one’s labour. So how has Ed framed Socialism anew? He is talking about ownership of power, ownership of government, which is not necessarily ownership of the factors of production. Ed’s Socialism is about having a government that stands up for the many against the interests of the few. It is democracy in the form of having markets work for the voter (markets go where you put your money, for example, buying the ethical good or the organic good to shape the market).
Democratic Socialism then?
I sensed a social democrat at work when during his first speech as leader, he spoke of getting the market to work and the difference between predatory and producer capitalism. Social-democratic ideas have for so long just been to ape a more friendly fashion of what the right have done. To pause but not reverse when it comes to clamping down on collective bargaining, rationing social security via means testing or privatisation at a slower pace, a list among many things originally considered a continuation of the ‘New Right’/’Thatcherism” parts of which New Labour tried to do or did do in government.
Whether our ideological bias backs or opposes this is irrelevant, for this argument under this ‘new Socialism’ it is the politics of ‘One Nation’. Everything Ed is proposing now is a clamp down on things the public at large disagree with, from energy prices to rail prices (next I assume water prices). This ‘cost of living crisis’ as it is being dubbed is part of the type of governing system Labour is saying it will apply. An evidence based or a “what works” system; a system that means that there is not a one size fits all answer, nationalisation vs privatisation, two divisive ideas previously held by Labour or Tory respectively.
It is actually much more than a debate about how we choose policies, it is more a debate about how we do politics, how we govern and why we govern. This is where there is a clearer split from the past, 30-40 and even the past 65 years.
Is this the beginning of a ‘revolution’ in the way we do politics? A lot of mention has been made to 1945 and the builders of the ‘Post War consensus’. A government then matched perhaps only by Margaret Thatcher in changing the face of Britain, whose achievements of note consist of the welfare state, the National Health Service and independence of India. The idea that government could make people’s lives better is a fundamental one. Perhaps the left haven’t been as pro-active as they should have been in a long time, especially with a prolonged period out of power in the 80’s and early 90’s. A much less interventionist New Labour government was keen only on tinkering round the edges. Is this a real split from the last Labour government and from ‘Old Labour’?
To sum up what ‘Socialism’ means to Ed:
Socialism to Ed means that a government under him will be one that stands up for the majority of people in the UK, a government owned by the people and not one of vested interests or money. Ed has talked of responsible capitalism; some hybrid between the old Socialist agenda of regulation and ownership of the means of production, and the ‘free market’, where the government enforces competition. Labour has made clear that it will now be an interventionist government, unlike the political consensus of the last 30 years, and more importantly it won’t be a ‘do to’ government like those of the past, but rather a ‘do with’ and a ‘do for’ government of ‘One Nation’.
It is an interesting time for the Neo-Liberal arguments because much of what was sold to the public, such as the idea of choice in a market, seems to have amounted to nothing. We can’t really be talking competition when the Big 6 Energy companies, the monopolies held by the trains, or the buses, or the banks, hold the public to ransom, charge excessive prices and keep wages low. What choice is there? What was mentioned but seems to have been missed by many is that Ed isn’t just proposing a freeze to the bills but a fundamental reform of the market by breaking up the ‘Big 6’ and creating a new but tougher regulator, to tackle the energy companies and to make sure a cut in wholesale prices is matched by a cut in consumer prices. Competition was rarely visible in the Neo-Liberal’s competition drive and we have paid the price of this assumption and the markets failure as much as we can take. Is it time to try the ‘One Nation’ approach?