Martin Bright

Is the Left Waking From Its Slumber?

Text settings

A rather impassioned piece on unemployment from Polly Toynbee in yesterday's Guardian made me realise that there are a number of people on the liberal-left in Britain thinking very hard about the implications of the global recession.

"Has the horror of it all struck Westminster with full force?," asks Polly? I think they are beginning to, but the problem is that they are stuck in the politics of the late-1990s census, which had us all triangulating like mad. All the clamour for an apology from the Prime Minister stems from a desire for him to atone for all our sins. It was difficult not to embrace the market when the market seemed so cuddly. What we mistook for comforting girth turned out to be the flabby product of over-indulgence.

But this is not the time for self-flagellation. Polly understands that action is now needed and that the fiscal stimulus has yet to be matched by anything approaching a job creation scheme. As Polly says, such schemes demand the politcal will to push them through: "A job creation programme can be afforded, in the same way that war, anti-terror measures or an outbreak of avian flu have to be afforded. The social destruction wrought by long-term unemployment is a national emergency. Taking strong action now will bring higher taxes once recovery begins, and that means having politicians with the nerve to explain why."

The companion piece to Polly's was also published in the Guardian this week. Jon Cruddas's analysis of the ideological crisis in the Labour Party has become increasingly sophisticated. His argument for a New Socialism might be considered by some as self-indulgent in the present circumstances. But I disagree.  


Here is his argument for electoral reform for example, which seems entirely reasonable: "We also have to face the crisis of political representation - especially among working-class voters. That means instituting a system of fair voting that can rewind the way Britain's political parties have sought to camp out in that mythical middle England. A grown-up Labour party needs to embrace proportional representation - not as a preserve of the liberal metropolitan intelligentsia, but as a core mechanism with which to combat a sense of working-class alienation."


The race for the centre-ground of British politics has knocked the dafter self-destructive edges off the Labour and Conservative parties. But it is now crucial to know where our political parties stand. 

There is nothing to be gained from an argument over who got it the most wrong in their analysis of global capitalism in the early 21st century. They all did. What we need is alternative solutions. There is still a powerful argument for the formation of a national government to tackle the emergency, something I first suggested in September last year. Brown should have gone for it when he was still being celebrated for his handling of the crisis. Whoever wins the next election should consider a genuine "government of all the talents". 

But for the parties to survive  such an alliance they will need to be certain of their political identities.