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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Juncture 20.2: Autumn 2013

09/09/2013

Introduction

As Juncture goes to press, the prime minister has just lost the authority of parliament for his foreign policy. The Syrian crisis has turned British politics on its head. The stale air of an unusual mid-term year, brought on by the five-year fixed-term parliament, that had hung over British politics has been temporarily dispelled. But to many observers it looks like a re-run of the 1970s: political parties stuck in hand-to-hand combat, overshadowed by world events, with none yet able to break out into a new political paradigm.

As in the 1970s, the stasis points to hung parliaments and a messy pluralism in politics. But it also opens up the space for ideological revisionism, of the sort that characterised the emergent neoliberalism of the right-wing thinktanks and the influential Euro-communism of the left in that tumultuous decade. Each of these movements ranged well beyond day-today political tactics to embrace deeper renewal of foundational normative commitments, political alliances, cultural strategies and policy programmes.

On the left, Ed Miliband has stated his conviction that Labour must reach for a transformative politics, to match the generational shifts that took place in 1945 or 1979, and it is striking how far he has personally led this ideological debate, with his influential, if sometimes terminologically derided agenda of 'responsible capitalism' and 'predistribution'. Roberto Mangabeira Unger insists that what he calls 'deep freedom' must be the left's goal, rather than a superficial equality of condition. Ameliorating mankind's daily miseries cannot be the summit of the left's ambitions. While Unger's radicalism stands very deliberately and critically outside the social democratic tradition, Nick Pearce seeks the foundational renewal of social democracy itself, opening it up to new intellectual currents and political formations. He argues that social democrats can rescue equality from its reduction to abstract, ahistorical patterns and revitalise both their statecraft and political strategies, becoming more pluralist, democratic and expansive in the process.

These are important foundational debates for the British left. The Labour party has never been a particularly intellectual party, a fact which allowed it to draw freely over the previous century on the work of great thinkers outside its ranks. But it is also true that in significant moments of revisionism – principally the 1950s and 1980s – it entertained fertile intellectual debates on its core values and animating political ambitions. It urgently needs to recover this spirit of intellectual imagination and political openness again today, at a time when the challenges it faces are every bit as great as those it has faced in the past.

Read more: Editorial: Foundational debates for the British left

Contents

  • Editorial \ Guy Lodge, Will Paxton and Nick Pearce
  • Deep freedom: Why the left should abandon equality \ Roberto Mangabeira Unger
  • What should social democrats believe? \ Nick Pearce
  • What's wrong with predistribution \ Lane Kenworthy
  • Juncture interview: Linda Colley
  • The middle classes: An historic actor in today's global world \ Saskia Sassens
  • The wrath of Erdogan \ Dani Rodrik
  • Pepper-spray and penguins \ Zeynep Tufekci
  • Five myths about Putin's foes \ Ben Judah
  • What the modernisers did next: From opposition to government – and beyond \ Tim Bale
  • No resting on laurels \ Francis Maude
  • Modernisation that lasts \ Mary Riddell
  • The dilemma at the heart of Europe: Germany and the German question \ Andreas Kluth
  • Fit for the future: A 10-year strategy for the NHS and social care \ Sarah Bickerstaffe
  • Labour's mid-term melancholy: Why poll position isn't everything \ John Curtice
  • Reviews: Sunder Katwala on a golden year in British sport