Following the publication of “In the Black labour” a Fortnight ago, our publishing Think-tank, Policy Network, has gathered together a series of thoughtful response to the “In the Black Labour” discussion paper which Adam Lent, Graeme Cooke, Anthony Painter and I wrote. The contributions include some from far bigger political “names” than we original authors, and are all well worth a read.
Co-designer of New Labour (and Labour peer) Roger Liddle provides a supportive overview of the challnges and likely tests for the party, while Former Treasury minister and head of Demos Kitty Ussher, argues we need to be radical re-engineers, a point nicely complemented by TUC economic adviser Duncan Weldon, who argues we need a wider tax base and rebalanced economy to make left “Fiscal Conservatism” work, while my friend Joe Goldberg, who is actually having to delivered fiscal restraint as a council finance cabinet officer, makes what I think it the most politically significant point- that there is a vital need for Labour to find optimism and ambition amidst austerity if we are to achieve our social goals.
Perhaps the most critical response comes from Ex No 10 and treasury adviser Dan Corry, who feels we have gone too far and conceded too much ground to the analysis of our oponents (while being supportive of much of the general thrust). It’s an important point, but I confess, as I read Dan’s essay, I felt a tremor of “just one more heave for classical social democracy” come over me. Unfair, perhaps.
My churlish and pouty reaction to even the mildest and most thoughtful of critiques aside, I think all four of us are delighted by the response “In the Black” has received. The paper was billed as a discussion paper, not a manifesto, deliberately. We wanted, and hoped for a debate, and we’ve succeeded in that beyond our wildest hopes.
The discussion we’ve seen, positive and negative, has been first class (a special mention here for Jon Wilson’s “Blue Labour” response, which almost succeeded me in converting me to the Blue Labour cause, it was that good). What’s been even more pleasing is that the discussion hasn’t been factional, or personality based, but really meaty.
This clearly leaves the question, where next. Duncan notes at one point in his essay that there is a clear lack of detail in our initial paper, and we’d hold our hands up to that willingly. I think we have two jobs to do now.
The first is to build even more of a debate – gathering and publicising responses and critiques from a broader range of sources, and participating in a wider debate too. In this cause, my longstanding refusal to attend panel discussions or fringe meetings of any sort has been suspended. All invites accepted.
The second job, is after reflecting on the points others make, then might be gathering together people who are broadly sympathetic to the points we made in the discussion paper, to flesh out what a commitment for Fiscal conservatism (or restraint or responsibility if you can’t bear the C-word!) might mean in detailed policy terms for a future Labour government.
Mind you, much of that depends on how much time Policy Network (who have been fantastic throughout this), and the four of us, can devote to this. We’ve all got day jobs, you know!
So it’ll probably be the new year before we’re able to agree where next exactly.