A Social Democratic Future went live in September 2009 with the professed aim to offer a forum for those, regardless of party affiliation or of none, who want to contribute to a new politics, marked by social democratic values guiding strategic policy development, rather than relying upon tactical interventions geared to the short-term control of news agenda.
The political methodology that defined New Labour under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown was rejected with a warning that its continuing application risked becoming the death knell of Labour as a creative political force.
The contours of British politics, of course, have changed beyond recognition in the tumultuous times that have followed.
Since the 2016 June Brexit vote, political life has been taken over by the question as to the terms under which the UK should leave the European Union (EU). The inappropriate use of that referenda and the related failure of the May government to spell out the choices and trade offs involved in Brexit, followed by the June 2017 election of a hung parliament, has led to a parliamentary impasse, where it is quite possible that the end result will a second referendum that votes to reverse the 2016 decision to leave.
That same election result left, Jeremy Corbyn, within striking distance of 10 Downing Street, committed to an avowedly radical socialist interventionalist agenda, involving, not only the banishing fiscal austerity, but the re-nationalisation of the railways and utilities.
That break with the past, which in normal times would be dominating political debate, has been obscured and displaced, as have practically all the public policy challenges facing Britain, by the Brexit blind alley.
The core guiding values of A Social Democratic Future remain unchanged, however. Policy development and choices need to be driven by, and assessed against, the primary social democratic yardstick: expanding lifetime opportunities for low and middle-income households, particularly the poor and disadvantaged, in a fair, efficient, and democratic manner. ‘For the Many, Rather than the Few’, is an inevitable over-simplified slogan, but it catches that social democratic essence.
Sustainable and efficient economic growth, balanced in its distributional composition, is a vital, but not sufficient, condition for securing progress against that yardstick. Value-based strategic and sustainable policy development that actually results in lasting socio-economic change that can command and retain general support, rather than populist gestures, is required.
A balanced employment-creating economy re-balanced towards investment rather than consumption, consistent with the compression of inequalities in income, wealth, and opportunity.
The provision of universal core public services at high quality and at sustainable cost.
The development of a housing system that contributes to sustainable growth rather than boom-bust, that actually delivers affordable housing to the young and those of moderate means, rather than windfall gains to the established, pricing-out the aspiring.
Tall orders, indeed. Yet, the Thatcher and Reagan governments in the eighties exploited the failures and limitations of social democratic Keynesianism to advance and embed their own politically-coloured versions of economic neo-liberalism.
The deadweight legacy of Thatcherite neo-liberalism still hangs over us. Inequality – stabilised, rather than reversed from the early 90’s onwards – continues to degrade the ethos of society and the motivations of individuals. It limits, rather than spurs, enhanced economic performance and social opportunity.
Its culture inheritance that ‘greed is good, winner takes all, there is no such thing as society’, provided ideological cover for rent-seeking private sector behaviour that exaggerate failures rather than embed efficiency across markets
Under-regulated financilisation of the economy, propped up and even incentivised by state-promoted crony capitalism, has broken the housing market leading to unaffordable house prices for Generation Rent, while providing excess super-profits to company chief executives and other company insiders.
Across the board, executive greed induces destructive and unproductive short-termism in corporate decision-making, favouring financial engineering and the massaging of company accounts and results, over and above the productivity-enhancing innovation and investment that is needed to support the steady build up of productive capacity, human capital, and profits.
A macro-economy over-dependent on consumption underpinned by debt, rather than investment- and productivity-led income growth, has proved to be the core consequence, bequeathing an economic Hobson’s Choice for the UK: either stagnant or sluggish household income growth based on insecure but flexible labour markets, or, a recovery based on housing-based debt and resurgent house price boom, but one that sooner or later will implode into another future bust, with its attendant long term adverse economic and social consequences, or a mixture of both.
Post the Great Financial Crash (GFC) fiscal austerity deflated levels of public investmentway below economically-needed levels, constraining both growth and productivity.
Creaking public services have been grossly under-funded. Adult social care, mental health, and prison services can verge, at worst, on the inhuman; at best they are deficient relative to
current and emerging needs within an ageing society.
The harnessing of modern more expensive treatments by one of the largest workforces in the world means that health has to rise in real terms each year, simply to stand still.
The reversal of the post-war trend towards greater social mobility and equality over recent decades – including the New Labour period – means that the children of the baby-boomer generation are now, and their children can look forward to being, poorer, enjoying less economic and social opportunities than did their parents.
This website’s title reflects that it subscribes to the values and political outlook and the approach of Attlee, Crosland, Callaghan, and Hattersley, more than it does to Marx, Benn, and their contemporary heirs, Corbyn, and McDonnell.
Well, that cuts both ways. Radical change upsetting the previous status quo, not re-packaged more of the same, also has to go with the grain of what the economy and wider society both needs and is prepared to support. Political agency has to both mould and reflect, and make the right economic judgment calls, to be effective.
That is true whatever the preferred political label employed. To change the political parameters of feasible action on a sustainable basis, a radical reforming government, first, needs to be elected, implement key policies that support its overarching transformational agenda, and then needs its successors to continue along the new strategic tramlines so set during its term (s) of office.
Neither moral rhetoric nor political sloganizing will do. Distractions born of self-righteousism or blinkered partial world-views bolstered by the comfort zone of appealing to the converted, inevitably and avoidably,will detract from progress.
Building an overlapping and sustainable technical and political consensus, albeit often implicit, that can advance social democratic values and the national interest by helping to build up a head of steam, supportive of not only future electoral success, but conducive to the achievement of sustainable policy outcomes, is just as important as a committed activist base.
The Labour 2017 manifesto was both radical and social democratic in aim and process. The spirit of Corbynism galvanised the young, and served to reinvigorate political debate, encouraging the engagement of previously excluded or alienated citizens.
Swathes of Middle England still need to be persuaded, however; policy offers have to appeal to enlightened general self interest, not simply altruism, or to narrowly- or opportunistically-defined beneficiary groups.
Now is the time to harness the opportunity to re-engineer a shift back in favour of egalitarian ends, according to inclusive social democratic values and evidence-driven methods, combining both social justice and economic efficiency, standing the future test of time.
A Social Democratic Future is focused on a political future set by such realities and imperatives. Its prime purpose is to contribute to the identification and development of policy that is best able to secure sustainable social democratic ends.
It aims to link technocratic policy analysis to underlying political values and commentary in ways that established think tanks – blessed with far greater resources, sources of expertise, and access to networks – such as the , and the
cannot always do, due to their charitable status and terms of reference.
By the same token, being independent of any political party, or any funder for that matter, it can delve and make connections across policy areas beyond any party political or factional pale.
Widerhousingends, in 2017 set out an initial overarching model, linking the wider economy and the housing and public expenditure systems.
During 2018 one focus was on Brexit, how best to mitigate its economic damage within the cross-cutting political dimension, making the argument that the UK needs at least to retain de facto continuing membership of the european customs union and single market for goods, at least, until alternative and sustainable arrangements can be demonstrably put in place that will not weaken its stagnated economy and related public finances further.
Another was contributing to the debate on XXX macro-economic reform, led by the xxx and , amongst others.
During 2019 a more detailed working paper will be published on measuring, funding, selecting productive infrastructure investment.
Other areas touched on were Models of Health Provision and Indian politics, economy, and society, where this website’s convenor has family links.
A housing policy series, building upon previous work produced by this website and others, linked housing and land market failure to housing market reform. affordable planning obligations system. A more detailed analysis of reform to the affordable planning obligations system will be published later this year.
Investing in productive infrastructure sets out a summary case for strategic reforms to the UK public expenditure planning and management system better designed to secure a level of public investment that in quantum, selection, and delivery consistent with the future requirements of the modern UK economy as a part of that same wider housing ends agenda.