Yellow Labour

Labour is in dire need of intellectual renewal. Neither Red, Blue or Purple provides what’s needed for the future – all have valid ideas that can be drawn upon, be they public ownership (Red), a better sense of community (Blue) or devolution (Purple), none have a comprehensive solution to the conceptual and practical collapse of Britain. A new school of thought in the party wouldn’t have this either – but Labour needs a more liberal strand of thought to complement existing ones. This “Yellow Labour”, as I’m dubbing it, would cross the economic divide – whether centrist, soft left or Corbynite, it could be accepted, and thus wouldn’t ever become a rigid, dogmatic faction – and even some elements of the Blue Labour model wouldn’t be incompatible with it. In this article I hope to outline why more liberal policy is needed, and what those policies might be.

Why Is it Needed?

Labour has always been relatively socially liberal – even the Blue Labour tradition isn’t distinctly authoritarian – but never has it aimed for proper liberal reform of the state or liberal foreign policy. Whether under Attlee or Wilson or Blair, Britain has still experienced some of the foibles of authoritarianism – Blue Labour often attacks the “socially liberal” Blair ministry, while forgetting the increasingly restrictive anti-terror laws, and even earlier, more left wing governments failed to pursue a liberal foreign policy – it was the (otherwise extremely praiseworthy) Attlee government who introduced Britain’s nuclear deterrent, sent us into the Korean war and followed a blind path of pro-Americanism despite the progressive alternative of the Keep Left camp.

Just as the UK needs a more liberal foreign policy (with interventions pushed forward both by Labour and Tory governments ending in disaster), it also needs proper reform of how the state and democracy works. Aside from specific knee-jerk reactions, Labour governments have also failed to take a proper look at existing institutions – the police, for instance, under Labour as well has the Tories, has performed unethical practices (such as undercover officers forming relationships with protesters in order to spy on harmless campaigning groups) symptomatic of a certain sinister sort of paranoia. This is the result of many things, but a total lack of accountability and proper dialogue between the government, the people and various institutions like the police feed into it. Yellow Labour would push forward democratic reform in all public services, especially any newly renationalised ones.

Yellow Labour policy would also help to defend against future decline into authoritarianism, and protect democracy even when Labour aren’t in power. The Labour Party would never go as far as the Tories are going in attacking civil liberties, but neither has it done much in the past that has prepared for this eventuality for when the Tories get back into power. A stronger Liberal school of thought in the party would push for policies that would help do this, thus protecting the British people from the crumbling away of their rights.

This anti-democratic decline is at the heart of the conceptual collapse of Britain – the English have been left adrift with the West Lothian problem, EVEL has devalued Scottish MPs, and increased surveillance is subtly breaking down meaningful relations between an increasingly far-removed government and its citizens. Yellow Labour would reverse this trend – but how?

Policy

  1. A proportional electoral system: this is something shunned by Bennites and Blairites alike, but is necessary for re-engaging disenfranchised voters left adrift by FPTP, as well as stopping the ‘elective dictatorships’ our system creates via permanent majorities.
  2. A federal UK, with English regional assemblies: this would solve the West Lothian problem in a truly democratic way, that would equal the amount of democratic power an Englishman and a Scotsman would have (unlike an English Parliament, which would be too similar to the UK parliament and be an unwieldy alternative power base).
  3. The rolling back of surveillance laws: this is vital if we’re to have a state that trusts and is willing to have constructive dialogue with its citizens.
  4. An abandonment of ‘humanitarian’ intervention: Britain should become a model for a liberal, peaceful state internationally. Liberal foreign policy is therefore as important as liberal domestic policy.
  5. Adopt a written constitution: Due to popular support, a monarchy would have to be retained, but a written constitution would still be vital in limiting future government’s power to roll back civil liberties.
  6. On similar lines, a fully, proportionally elected Senate to replace the House of Lords would be vital in limiting the power of the Commons’ and the PM.
  7. Consider liberal policy like the decriminalisation of marijuana and legalisation of assisted dying  as part of a shift to giving individuals more personal responsibility. In respects to drug decriminalisation, this should also clamp down on criminal black markets. Those with addiction problems should be brought into the open and treated by the NHS, not the criminal justice system.

There are more ways this policy platform could be expanded, but what those on the left and right of the Labour Party don’t realise, is a liberal reform of the state is desperately needed – not just  as an afterthought, but as a priority. This cause is one that can and should be championed by the centre, soft left and “hard” left of Labour – so wherever you might be on the left-right spectrum, I hope you give more thought to liberal policy.

~ Seb

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4 thoughts on “Yellow Labour

  1. This is an interesting idea but one which, I fear, is doomed. You are clearly correct that there is a need for a strong liberal component to politics and many of the liberal ideas of the enlightenment are under threat. However, socialism’s authoritarian strands run very deep and are unlikely to be severed easily. Most of the benefits of the welfare state and related services arose from the work of liberals although the credit is claimed by others. A yellow strand to Labour is a nice idea but perhaps it may be more productive to try and recreate a truly liberal movement.

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    1. Thanks for the reply! I suppose there are a few reasons why I’d disagree though – firstly, the dedication to more direct social justice embodied in socialism is still hugely important in constructing a harmonious society. Liberals, like Asquith and Beveridge helped to lay the conceptual and practical foundations for the welfare state, but socialists like Attlee and Bevan expanded on this and built from the ground up many of its most recognisable aspects. So though we have a great debt to pay to Liberals, we also also should recognise the achievements of socialists.
      Also, having seen the decline and fall of the Liberal Democrats, my worry would be that a party/movement where the only primary concern is liberal policy is a party vulnerable to right wingery. Labour does have a right, but most of its members aren’t *really* ersatz-Tories in the way Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander (for instance) were.
      Perhaps more pertinently though, as long as FPTP exists, new parties are doomed from the start, so it’s better to work within existing ones – and preferably the only progressive party that has a chance of gaining power, too.
      Again, thanks for the reply!

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  2. I am, on the whole, very liberal. Nevertheless, I cannot see how we are to defend the British People on British soil without strong surveillance laws. Even though France passed some controversial surveillance laws after Charlie Hebdo, which were still not as strong as those of the UK, the security services failed to prevent the recent Paris attacks.

    How can we protect people without strong surveillance laws? It’s an important question and if there was a liberal, pro-privacy alternative I would certainly rally behind it.

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    1. Thanks for the comment!
      There are a couple of arguments I’d use against surveillance, in response to that. Firstly, I think there’s an issue with whether it actually *does* help all that much in the fight against terrorism. France is a case in point – they massively ramped up their surveillance programme, but apparently to no avail, as they were of course tragically attacked again. Terrorists are very savvy and conventional methods of mass surveillance merely ensure that innocent civilians get their privacy encroached on while they get away scot free, using increasingly cunning methods of communication. This article from the New Statesman shows very aptly my point, and suggests that targeted, evidence based surveillance of individuals is actually more useful and backed properly by the evidence. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/05/britain-s-data-surveillance-bill-grave-misstep
      Secondly, how far is too far, and how might this enable future more extreme government? The first question there is one of opinion, but I’d suggest if our current level of mass surveillance is ineffective, I’d rather go for more traditional approaches to security as suggested in the article (perhaps also setting up an independent commission to sanction hacking when it’s needed or just beef up frontline police services) than bring surveillance to an intolerable level, which would probably be effective if worryingly authoritarian/potentially very dangerous. The second question there ties into this – how might this help a potential far right, illiberal government of the future? Well, obviously it pushes us further in that direction.
      I think that covers everything – don’t hesitate to reply and catch me out on things! Thanks for reading the article 🙂

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