Now is the time for Social Democracy: here’s how Labour can achieve it



Kevin Hickson

On his return from the Labour Party Conference, Kevin Hickson, author of Rebuilding Social Democracy: core principles for the Left, calls for Social Democracy and presents his ideas on how this should be brought about.

Following his decisive second mandate in less than 12 months, Jeremy Corbyn called on the Labour Party to unite. Without unity the party has no prospect of power. Divided parties always lose elections and the Conservatives have united very quickly after the EU referendum and change of Prime Minister.

Corbyn’s calls for unity seem short-lived, however, with reports of more conflict at the party’s National Executive Committee over the weekend, including the changes that were made at the last minute to Clive Lewis’ speech by Corbyn’s communications chief, Seamus Milne, over the renewal of Trident.

The truce was barely holding up and conference hadn’t even finished!

It is in this context that Rebuilding Social Democracy is published… apparently inauspicious timing, but the need has never been greater.

“Social Democracy is needed in modern Britain and the only adequate vehicle for its implementation is the Labour Party.”

The book contains chapters by leading academics on the left and centre-left of British politics who formed a discussion group named the Social Democrat Philosophy Group. The group – and therefore the book – is fairly eclectic with disagreements on specific points among the contributors themselves, but what unites us is a belief that social democracy (or democratic socialism if you prefer) is needed in modern Britain and that the only adequate vehicle for its implementation is the Labour Party.

The cause of the loss of the working-class vote

Several years ago it was argued that any attempt to move away from New Labour’s political strategy would be electoral suicide. This claim was flawed and reflective of the fact that for New Labour globalisation was a positive. They believed the country would benefit from engaging positively with what was the new reality. Dynamic companies would benefit from access to world markets and new opportunities for individuals would be unleashed. Those who talked about the negatives of globalisation were insular. This belief meant that the party lost touch with large sections of its traditional working-class vote.

Now is the time for reassurance

To bring these voters back, I believe that the only way for Labour to win the next General Election is to unite around a radical set of policies designed to offer people reassurance.

“Labour must unite around a radical set of policies designed to offer people reassurance.”

Reassurance for those who are fearful of losing their jobs in a largely deregulated labour market, reassurance for those who cannot survive on low incomes as the use of zero-hours contracts become more extensive and benefits are tightened up even further, reassurance for younger people who cannot get on the housing ladder or leave University with huge personal debts, reassurance for those who worry about how they will look after their loved ones in old age given the inadequacy of social service provision and the costs of residential care. And – always a difficult issue for Labour – reassurance for those who see the negative consequences of uncontrolled immigration.

The new political reality

There is considerable fear over the future and anger directed at the political establishment. There is no certainty that the Left will triumph in such circumstances. The populist right could be the main beneficiaries, as seen with the support for Donald Trump in America and UKIP in Britain. Right-wing populism could be the victor in the new political reality.

“Ideology and electoral success are mutually reinforcing.”

Given this, for the Labour Party to be elected, they need to unite around a radical programme including:

  • full employment;
  • a proper living wage;
  • a rebalanced economy towards the poorer regions of the UK and to new forms of manufacturing;
  • integrated health and social care;
  • high quality education for all;
  • managed immigration.

In turn, this requires dropping policies which are largely irrelevant to, or even disliked by, most voters, such as unilateral nuclear disarmament, and a minority interest for those on the far Left.

We need a new economic and social policy settlement more radical than the Labour Party has offered for many years and one which will address directly people’s fears and uncertainties over the future.

There is no trade off between ideology and electoral success – in fact the two are mutually reinforcing.



Rebuilding Social Democracy is available with 20% discount – just £7.99 – here. Order your copy now!

1 Response to “Now is the time for Social Democracy: here’s how Labour can achieve it”

  1. 1 Patrick Ainley October 6, 2016 at 11:35 am

    In my book ‘Betraying a Generation’ (also by by PP but as a brief = 40,000 words on what any students needs to know about education – not just schools), I characterise Social Democracy with ref to the LP briefly as (p.20) I can’t see (Mind you, I haven’t read your book!) that Jeremy Corbyn has transcended this crisis of SD in the LP, which afflicts all the European SD Parties plus the Democrats in the USA and of which it seems to me he is a symptom but not a solution.

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