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 then rejected with a ringing 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 since 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, led to a parliamentary impasse that to all intents and purposes has crowded-out all other business, undermined the legitimacy of the institution itself, and left the country polarised between Remaining through a second vote, and a disorderly No deal exit.
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 of fiscal austerity, but the re-nationalisation of the railways and the utilities.
That break with the past, which in normal times would be dominating political debate, has also 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 democratically sustainable and inclusive manner. ‘For the Many, Rather than the Few’, is an inevitably over-simplified slogan, but it catches that social democratic essence, with the rider that the ‘Few’ should be protected from any possible application of the arbitrary tyranny of the majority: the focus must always be on levelling-up, rather than levelling-down.
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, are 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 in the process.
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.
That 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. Market failures are exaggerated, rather than efficiency embedded, across markets.
Its cultural inheritance that ‘greed is good, winner takes all, that there is no such thing as society’, provided ideological cover for such rent-seeking private sector behaviour.
Under-regulated financilisation of the economy, propped up and even incentivised by state-promoted crony capitalism, such as the Help-to-Buy programme, has further broken the housing market. Unaffordable house prices for Generation Rent and providing excess super-profits to the benefit largely company chief executives and other company insiders, some of whom receive more than the capital budget for the affordable housing programme, are chips off that same coin.
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.
Winston Churchill, as well as Clem Attlee and Harold Macmillan, would be spluttering a mixture of anger and disbelief that our national values and institutions have been so devalued and distorted.
A macro-economy over-dependent on consumption underpinned by debt, rather than investment- and productivity-led income growth, is 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 has deflated levels of public investment way 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
the current and emerging needs of an ageing society. The vulnerable have borne the brunt of the sacrifice required by austerity, not the rich or comfortable, who have continued to benefit from rising house and other asset process, assisted by interest rates having to be cut to the point where their reduction no longer has any effect on the economy leaving Quantitative Easing (QE), the primary macro-economic policy response to the GFC, in lieu of a concerted and more targeted activist fiscal policy.
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 expressed 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, or, for that matter, the insipient and self-serving vacuity that many so-called ‘moderates’ mistake or masquerade for social democracy, which must always carry a hard but benevolent edge.
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. The proof of the pudding in politics is indeed in the eating.
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 it set during its term (s) of office, re-setting the parameters of feasible political action and outcome in favour of strategic social democratic ends.
Neither old-fashioned social democratic moral rhetoric, nor Bennite-type political sloganizing will do. Distractions born of self-righteousness and blinkered and partial world-views, bolstered by the comfort zone of appealing to the converted or the prejudiced, inevitably but avoidably, will hinder or even torpedo progress.
Building an overlapping and sustainable technical and political consensus, albeit often implicit, that can advance social democratic values and the national interest, is just as important as, and must supplement and complement, a committed, but clear-eyed and tolerant, activist base.
In that light, the Labour 2017 manifesto was both radical and social democratic in aim and process. Fueled with the spirit of Corbynism it helped to galvanise the young, to reinvigorate political debate, to slay some needed shibboleths, to win the support of previously excluded, alienated, or cynical citizens.
It was not enough, however, to win a parliamentary majority that could allow its declared aims to be translated into the lasting change of direction and reform needed.
For that to change, swathes of ‘Middle England’ need to be taken and kept on board. Future policy offers will have to appeal to enlightened general self interest, not simply altruism nor to narrowly- or opportunistically-defined beneficiary groups.
A Social Democratic Future is focused on a political future set by such realities and imperatives.
Widerhousingends, in 2017, set out an initial overarching model linking the wider economy and the housing and public expenditure systems.
Brexit, of course, has dominated politics since June 2016 to the detriment of much else. Indeed providing commentary on unfolding events has accounted for much of this website’s activity.
The main thrust of the contingent contribution of A Social Democratic Future during 2018 and into 2019, until it became finally clear this Spring that the May Withdrawal Agreement would not be approved by this Parliament, was in favour of a compromise, reflecting the reality of the .
One which would best mitigate the economic damage that any Brexit will bring, would offer a route to avoid a Hard border within the island of Ireland, while allowing the country to move on with less further divisive rancour, relative to the alternatives.
The UK, as a minimum, would continue to participate in an equivalent customs union with the EU and maintain regulatory alignment for goods. Depending on the timing of the next election, a future government could possibly shift towards Norway-Plus, sooner or later. It proved, however, to be a compromise too far for both the May government and the Labour Opposition.
The worst of all worlds is where we seem to be stuck at the moment. Continuing uncertainty is damaging the economy, starving it of the investment it needs to escape stagnation, while the(current) Chancellor is preparing to spend £26bn to mitigate the immediate impact of a No Deal exit, the Union with Scotland and Northern Ireland is threatened to the point of impending demise, and political discourse has become polarised and polluted, sometimes to a point where a whiff back to the political extremes of the thirties is discernible.
Think, think, what £26bn could do to transform the housing and education environments in Brexit-voting areas and elsewhere, while relieving the pressure on health and adult social care.
We must escape this mess, but how? The Conservative Party has been captured by the Hard-Brexiteers, eschewing evidence and common-sense, in favour of a fetish.
The Labour Party is confused and conflicted, its position only (vaguely) comprehensible – like that of the governing party – if you take the trouble of studying its internal machinations and perceived electoral calculus. But why should the electorate?
The Liberal Democrats, at present, is largely a one-trick Remain pony, preaching to the converted, providing a comfort zone to recover from its post-Coalition electoral debacle.
So much for the current breed of politicians stepping up to the plate to lead public opinion towards the national interest. Little surprise then that populism rears its unpredictable and unstable head.
Possible way outs other than a No deal exit, with its economic, political, and socially dire consequences, are constrained and unclear.
This Parliament either passes a version of the May Deal, probably on unwhipped votes, followed by tugs-of-war between MP’s seeking to put a hard-and soft-Brexit stamp on the Political Declaration and the subsequent negotiations with the EU, with any final agreement unlikely to be in place before a General Election (GE) 2022; or, the new Conservative Prime Minister secures a GE, before then; or, an Opposition vote of no confidence in the new PM’s government succeeds; or, Parliament agrees a second referendum.
None of these options appear likely, or even possible, at present, but something has to give.
This website reluctantly and contingently has come to a conclusion, assuming that the current parliamentary deadlock cannot be broken, that a Remain v. No Deal binary second binary referendum choice, could become the residual, albeit dangerous and uncertain, least-bad (on the balance of probabilities) way out, notwithstanding the dangers xxx
In short, if the UK is to suffer No Deal, let the majority vote expressly for it, rather than that outcome occurring by government fiat or drift and default; hopefully, a Remain-vote based on knowledge of what Brexit actually entails to the Union, to the economy, to the public finances and to the long-term opportunities open to the non-privileged majority, could put this blind alley issue to bed for a generation on a ‘never again’ basis.
But watch this space. Things might, and are likely to, change.
The other main policy themes that the website has covered during 2018 and will continue to cover in 2019 are summarised below.
Macro-economic policy reform and productive infrastructural investment
Another was contributing to the debate on XXX macro-economic reform, led by the xxx and , amongst others.
Making housing choice and opportunity a reality
Tax and Welfare: recognising the true fiscal crisis of the state
The increased medical demands of an ageing society combined with the harnessing of modern more expensive treatments by one of the largest workforces in the world, represented by the NHS, means that health spending has to rise in real terms each year, simply to stand still.
The rising relative real cost of providing productive economic and social infrastructure, such as housing, due, for instance, the escalating cost of residential land accounting for up to 70% of the price of a home in the high cost, most unaffordable areas of the country, means that
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.