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Postliberalism, post-Labour?

Told you we were winning. Post liberalism is not just a prediction, it is a reality. And like all political realities, it started years ago. Particularly among a group of Labour supporters, fired up by the outflanking of a certain Red Tory, who for years had had to suffer the indignity of having the door slammed in their faces by those who claimed to be on their side.*
As I wrote back in 2009, at root this was a clash of cultures. Labour were fretting over losing that very constituency whom they had for years sneered at and harassed. For too long Labour could not permit the legitimacy of dissenting views, labeling as extreme or bigoted that which was neither extreme nor bigoted. In declaring a whole way of thinking out of bounds, Labour lost the ability to speak in the language of those who were abandoning them – and if language is the limit of our thought then it came as no surprise that when they tried to speak, a great many concluded they had little relevant to say. The once rich tones of the Labour chorus had become a shrill, castigating shriek.
Yet this narrow political puritanism seems to have succumbed – under the guise of pluralism new (old) voices are once again being heard. Though long neglected, those voices have wisdom to share which reaches down into the very roots of Labour philosophy, into the very beginnings of the Labour movement.

To his credit, Ed Miliband recognises this. Indeed, he is the only leader of the three main parties perspicacious enough to grasp the wider change taking place. For all Cameron’s easy meedya ways, he’s not really a man of the people. For all Ed’s awkwardness, he is at least trying to be. As I argued here, postliberalism also means post Party politics, since ‘if politics really is on the cusp of a post-liberal settlement as many insist, then the common existence of liberalism across the political spectrum means that it is also on the cusp of post-party politics, since the post-liberal response also finds expression across the political spectrum.’ 

For which reason, it was cheering to hear Ed Miliband acknowledge precisely this in his One Nation Q&A session in Carlisle yesterday, recognising that for a left-wing movement to grow then its roots needs nourishing from below, not yanking up from above, and that means bringing in those who have long been left out in the cold. If we take him at his word then Miliband seems willing to open up the windows, to allow the winds to blow through and mess things up a little. Quite how messy he is willing to let things get we are yet to see, and it is undeniable that a significant part of the party hierarchy will rush to bolt those windows shut once their own papers start flying about. Yet for the time being the Labour party is being open, and from that we all benefit. 
We caught a glimpse of this at the Q&A event, where that socially conservative core, that always did sit at the heart of the Labour tradition, reared its head – we heard questions on pornography, on the sexualisation of society, on gambling and on the freedom to choose to be a stay at home parent. And we also heard encouraging answers – to these and numerous other issues. Mainstream caricatures of the bogeyman ‘liberal Left’ always have exploded when thrust upon those outwith the parochial lens of the commentariat and professional politicos. Yet this widened focus, one that courts the labour movement rather than just the professional Labour Party, is one that Miliband has begun to employ, and he’s not shy in telling people that that is exactly what he is trying to do precisely in order to revitalise that movement which he currently leads. 
For those of us who have long urged an opening up of the airwaves, there is much about which to be heartened, though of course there is no question that we will get it all our own way. As Maurice Glasman acknowledged in this programme regarding the importance of Catholic social teaching to the Labour movement (that such a programme even needed to be made rather says it all), rehabilitation of old voices will include an element of conflict, and it will necessarily be piecemeal – there will still be those who screech ‘bigot’, and reject everything we say on precisely those terms. Nonetheless, change is happening, and the Labour Party are at least, on the surface of it, trying to change.
Don’t get me wrong, I did not agree with all that was said by Ed Miliband. Responses to certain fundamental questions struck me as uninspired and uninspiring and I would dearly love a Labour leadership comfortable with critiquing the free market fundamentalism of liberal economic (/social) systems. There is no false optimism; more, it is the recognition that we are gradually allowed to speak. And even be listened to. In so doing, Ed Miliband has begun to pull the rug from underneath those very people who think he is their man – I’ll stand alongside and cheer with them as he does so.

* Some of course take it back much further – to our parents and grandparents before us

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