Fundamental questions.

Author:Stears, Marc
Position::ROUNDTABLE: After Miliband

If you read the commentary on the election, the questions that are being asked about Labour centre on themes such as: did Labour go too far to the left? Should it come back to the right? Did Labour abandon too much Blair? Did it do too much Brown? Did Labour say too much about spending and borrowing? Or did it not say enough about spending and borrowing? Was Labour insufficiently socially conservative? Is the future modern and cosmopolitan?

Those are the kind of frames that you get both from reading about the leadership debate as it's unfolding, and also from reading some of the better commentary on what happened over the last five years. But I want to argue that, vital though these questions are, there are more fundamental questions to consider too. Questions for Labour's future about what it thinks about the social, economic and political model that currently structures our country.

Core to Ed Miliband's time as Labour leader was one question: does Britain work for working people? The formulation may not be particularly elegant but it does ask us to look at whether the fundamental structures of our economy, the conventions of our society, and the rules that shape our politics actually operate in a way which benefits the vast majority of the people of our country. And then whether a Labour government should be aiming to accept the prevailing order pretty much as it currently exists, trying to operate largely within it, or whether it should be aiming for a more fundamental shift.

The 2015 manifesto provided the answer as far as the Miliband era was concerned. The goal was to do something about the rampant inequality that blocks economic opportunity, subverts our society, and poisons our politics. The method was not simply to continue with the tax and spend transfers that have often characterised Labour in the past, but to achieve some substantial structural change to the economy which could actually have a significant impact on the distribution of wealth and opportunity for the foreseeable future.

So could Labour turn the tide on the inegalitarian distribution of wealth and opportunity which has grown since the late 1970s? That was the key question that Ed Miliband asked. And he also traced its impact in society and politics. His 2014 Hugo Young Lecture argued that the promotion of greater equality isn't just an economic agenda, it's also a political agenda. It is about the distribution of political power in the United Kingdom. It was about...

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