Lessons Labour Must Learn from French Socialists, Barack Obama, and the Netherlands.
Appeal to Ipswich Businesswoman.
“We have to find new ways to connect our politics with the small businesswoman in Ipswich, the GP in Fleetwood, the personal trainer in Gloucester.” write Douglas Alexander and David Miliband in The Observer.
“The lessons Labour must learn from Barack Obama and the Democrats” is part of the swelling tide of material broadcast and written about the coming US elections.
The authors, like the British media, are largely uninterested in the Polls in Holland on September the 12th, this week.
This is a shame because politics in the Netherlands are extremely interesting and important at the moment. A party close to Labour, the Partij van de Arbeid (Labour Party) is challenged closely by the hard left Socialistische Partij. Dutch Labour is at present neck-and-neck with the pro-austerity Liberal party.(Here) The Socialists are expected to do well, as critics of the social democrats’ concessions to the right and inability to oppose, seriously, cuts in public spending.
But, as is customary amongst British politicians of the centre-left, it’s the American Democrats, “hungry to win” who capture the attention.
The Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who has addressed Progress Conferences, and the loser of Labour’s Leadership election, make these points:
Labour must follow the US Democrats and demonstrate “fiscal responsibility” . Faced with an economic crisis, the Party has to be ”state reformers as well as market reformers.”
So we need to be the people doing things differently when there is less money around. That was the lesson from Democratic governors and mayors at the convention. Like Labour in local government in the UK, they are refashioning the way the state does business – decentralising power, incentivising job creation, switching spending and engaging the voluntary sector – to achieve progressive outcomes.
This is not far off the ‘Big Society’ and David Cameron and ‘Red Tory’. Localism, using the ‘voluntary sector’ and “switching spending” are fuzzy words for what seems like an attempt to avoid rebuilding a democratic, socially owned, public domain. Describing the state a “business” avoids confronting the major difficulty that the ‘market state’ has created by farming off its functions to private, inefficient, exploitative and costly, companies.
The American Democrats are not a left-wing party and cannot be accused of hiding their pro-market policies, but the Labour Party claims to be on the ‘centre’ left. ‘Progressive outcome’ can only be achieved through progressive instruments and the market state is not able to do this.
Next they note that, “The Democrats, like Labour, cannot rely only on the New Deal coalition of the organised working class.” “ embracing the rising classes and groups in society such as Latinos and middle-income women. It helps that the Republicansare so aggressively wrong on issues of gay rights, women’s rights and minority rights.” But that Labour cannot use these ‘culture wars’ to link with these constituencies, so we have to find “new says” to connect with the Ipswich businesswoman and others cited above.
Money can buy votes, they note, and call for political funding reform. They launch an appeal for the “politics of building and not just blaming”.
Finally they state, “We can’t rely on David Cameron to throw away power like Nicolas Sarkozy in France”.
We are sure that François Hollande would be pleased to hear that he won a hard-fought election because Sarkozy ‘threw away’ his chances.
But the French Socialists did not win because of Sarkozy’s faults.
They mobilised over 2 million people to vote in their ‘Primary’ election to select their Presidential candidate. They built up an alliance of interests by proposing fiscal reform, to deal with austerity by taxing the wealthy. They proposed job creation to grapple with the problem of youth unemployment. They appealed to the trade unions by calls to strengthen workers’ rights. They gained an audience amongst women and minorities by proposing measures to increase equality. They offered a progressive programme that went for European growth as a way to deal with crisis of the Euro Zone.
They were helped by the mass support for the Front de Gauche, which helped turn the public debate to the left.
The Socialists did not rely on a coalition of the organised working class, (no French left government has ever done so, as unions are politically independent). But they got objective support from most of the trade union federations. With their prorgamme of social justice and defending public servcies they won by gaining a majority of the working class, white and blue-collar, vote, and not just amongst state or municipal employees.
A core worker and employee electoral base, widened by social policies, was the cause of their victory.
The actions, successes and failures, of the Jean-Marc Ayrault government, which includes the French Green party, the EELV, are of great importance for the European left. They can, and will, be criticised from the left. But one achievement stands out :the Parti Socialiste has clawed back the political agenda from the right.
The French Socialists are part of the Socialist International, as is the Labour Party.
The American Democrats are not.