Next left

Last night saw the launch of Open Left , Demos’ counter to its Progressive Conservatism project (outlined here by Natalie).

Much of the discussion seemingly hinged on language – James Purnell MP noted the faultlines in his party around questions of choice, and an important theme was the need to reclaim the language of the left (this was seen, particularly by Will Hutton, as an important counter to the BNP), particularly notions of fairness and an accurate and precise sense of what egalitarianism means.  Also frequently raised was the left as being against the predominantly atomistic view of the right wing.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, arguably the best speaker (though all - particularly Hutton and John Cruddas MP - spoke well, and Richard Reeves chaired, as ever, like a pro) was not a politician.  Documentary maker Jess Search repeated the now old adage of ‘the people, formerly known as the audience’ and was the only speaker to really recognise the effect of change of digital technologies on the interaction between people and parliament – arguing that “universal broadband is probably more important than universal suffrage” – and the fact that this is as yet still in its infancy.  (For more on these changing issues, see in particular our driver on changing attitudes to formal political engagement and the suggested further reading).

But perhaps what was most important was not what was said, but what it represented: a wholesale admission that the left had lost its way and that since there is – as Cruddas put it – “no a priori reason why the Labour party should exist” it needs to take time whilst Labour is in certain opposition to rethink and regroup.  (Purnell’s contract is for three years, starting from September – a time perfectly calculated to sit back and plan for the next election).

But the most interesting thing about the discussion from my perspective was the mentioning of where civil society sits in relation to politics.  Amidst discussion that “the problem [is] that we don’t have enough of a civil society”, there was a recognition that Labour needs to reassess its relationship to its traditional partners – religious movements and trade unionism in particular – in civil society.  There was also the beginnings of a consideration of whether traditional structures and stances of membership organisations such as trade unions and political parties still hold sway in an era where – as Cruddas stated – the emails collected in two months for the Hope not Hate campaign already outnumber the combined databases of the Labour and Conservative parties.

Last updated at 10:36 Tue 21/Jul/09.
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