Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A 'New Socialism'?

Turn over the page of the Guardian or simply click this link and you will find an article of equally high quality from Jon Cruddas MP. I was underwhelmed by Compass' article in the New Statesman last week which kind of had the feeling of finding an old overcoat in a bag at the back of your wardrobe but Jon Cruddas has redeemed the Compass attack today to an extent.

Like Cruddas I have too been struck by Julian Baggini's Welcome to Everytown. It should be required reading for anyone in public life who has spent more than five years in London. The thing that strikes you when you go to Crewe, or Rugby, or Rotherham, or Bury, small town England in other words is just how strong the notion of place and locality are in the English mind. This is why people feel more disconnected from politics than ever before: politics has been removed for their everyday concern. The following paragraph is particularly apt:

"Labour lost the language of generosity, kindness and community as it lost the tempo of the country. England's abiding culture was never socialist, but as we misunderstood its essential ethic of solidarity we lost our ability to build a politics beyond the market- to mould a radical hope for the country."
Powerful stuff and right on target. A new diverse identity has to be grafted onto this broad sense. We have to challenge the notion of England as a static and ethnic concept. Beyond that we should celebrate attachment to home and own as long as this is an inclusive rather exclusive sentiment. And our politics, a politics of community reinforced rather than undermined by government, must be reflective of this communitarian impulse.

My only gripe is why sign off the piece by declaring the response to these challenges a 'New Socialism'? You've already argued that our abiding culture was never socialist so why hamper yourself unnecessarily by going down the blind alley of what is and isn't socialism? And why import perceptions and associations about 'socialism' into what is otherwise a very fruitful debate? It seems to me that there are intelligent and challenging voices on the left who are walking a fine line between vision and indulgence. Let's steer things towards the former and away from the latter.

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