Jan 152011

I’m not going to fisk this speech, the full transcript of which can be found at the Fabian Society website here.  I’m simply going to copy and paste that part of the speech which resonated and reverberated most for me:

Among the many strands of the British Labour tradition, two have proved particularly influential.

The first was the idea of socialism as a kind of missionary work to be undertaken on behalf of the people.

I’m sorry to give the Fabians a hard time, but this view is most obviously associated with the early Fabians around Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

The alternative strand, represented by the co-operative movement and the early trade unions, saw Labour as a grassroots, democratic movement to enable people to lead the most fulfilling lives.

As we seek the right traditions to draw on as a political party in the 21st century, it is so important that we understand the appropriate role of each tradition.

The Webb Fabian tradition was born of an era where the challenge of the Left was meeting people’s basic needs for health, housing, education and relief of poverty.

That need will always remain.

But people rightly expect more out of their lives than simply meeting basic needs.

The New Labour tradition which embraced dynamic markets is also important for our future and creating wealth.

But people don’t just care about the bottom line, there is so much more to life.

So the bureaucratic state and the overbearing market will never meet our real ambition as a party, that each citizen can be liberated to have the real freedom to shape their own lives.

To do that, we need to draw on that other tradition based on mutualism, localism and the common bonds of solidarity that captures the essence of our party at its best.

Labour List argues that on the back of this speech we’ve now got the “what” – all that remains to be effected is the “how”.  I’d be inclined to question what some of us may interpret as an assumption bordering on insensitive smugness.  Down in that old London town, that extremity which in Britain too often serves as the navel-gazing centre of all which is seen to importantly go around, these may be self-congratulatory times.  But in times of regeneration, in the first few moments, inclusive process is far more important than quick results.  If we are now to assume that Ed Miliband has – all on his lonesome – struck Labour gold and identified what needs to be done over the next decade, we are running the risk of luxuriating once again in the pyramidal and hagiographical politics of Blair, Thatcher, Reagan and Kennedy – of all the historically incisive and moment-crystallising political leaders we so initially loved for, if nothing more, their clarity and ability to communicate … only to then end up despondently so terribly disillusioned with.

Process is not just for the “how”.  Process is not just for the implementation of what “wiser” and “more important” people decide.  Process should include the “what” from the start. 

If ten years down the line we really don’t want to end up as we currently find ourselves, we need to get completely away from the reputational approach to political discourse – where everything depends on one acquiring a single-minded ratio of rhetorical victories versus defeats and where nothing depends on one’s interactions in amongst and as a part of the crowd. 

If only, in fact, instead of mirroring our competition and becoming evermore like them, we chose to walk our own path and create our own environment.  If only.

That is the future I would argue in favour of.  A future where we must engage on our own terms.

We must engage with the “how” and the “what”.

Can Ed Miliband be a leader for a crowdsourcing and social media generation?  I would love to think so.  But I have recently blogged on my suspicions that this will not be the case.  Time will tell – but then it always does.  And those who win these kinds of battles will be those who make it their business to make the time one always needs to outlast bitter opposition.

If we are not careful and do not understand the wider historical dynamics.

I suppose a successful politician (in at least what we might term the mould of Old Politics) is like a successful businessperson.  Both get where they are not because they have avoided failure but, rather, because they have survived it – more than likely several times, more than likely really rather painfully.

Such failure then forges for these individuals a protective armour and common distance from the trials and tribulations of those who have failed in other, more mundane, kinds of ways.  So it is then that our makers and shakers become subtly different from the rest of us.  And in the end it’s not the material wealth their position assigns them which makes them different but, rather, the mindset of having survived failure and come out the other side.

If they can do it, why not the rest of us?

Unfortunately, for the rest of us, who now live this new generation of communication, such assumptions are not really part of the crowdsourcing and social media worlds – worlds where communities are generally built out of agreement and adhesion to clear and guiding principles.  Anathema to the Old Politics if anathema there ever was.  So we already see a stumbling-block – an obstacle to coherent regeneration in this New Politics which they would have us believe and emotionally invest in. 

A New Politics which I sadly suspect is going to become little more than a clever rebranding of impulses awfully older than humankind.


  2 Responses to “Ed Miliband’s speech to the Fabians reminds me of so many great leaders down the years”

  1. So Ed realises that the LibDems he is flirting with only left Labour because, under Blair, Labour sold its principles to stay in power.

    His stance is childish and naive.

  2. Hi Liam – not sure I agree. I think I fear the opposite. Wolf in sheep's clothing etc. Traditional politician with a shiny superficial makeover.

    As you may gather, I don't really trust all that traditional politicking. Too much takes place behind closed doors, don't you think?

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