Socialism and a free society

I am a democratic Socialist. Proud to be a member of the Labour Party.

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I believe it’s important to have beliefs. The sets of values and understandings that guide your actions, allow others to understand what might be expected and join with you, and to allow others to judge. But not something that closes you to learning.

The first belief is such a given – freedom. There are many flavours though, some famously mistaking freedom for licence. My flavour draws from saying we are freer in a more equal society, where we are dealing with the five giants of social evil – want, squalor, idleness, ignorance and disease. It also draws on notions of respect, and of rights and responsibilities. Open government and the rule of law, but to support negotiation rather than more lawyers.
The distinguishing test of freedom in any nation is that people can come together, in parties, to change the nation, using the mandate from a universal vote that had a choice.

Unaccountable power, poverty and not caring, then, are the biggest threats to our freedom.

And we should care. For whilst political parties that embrace winning elections have a great deal in common, there are very real choices between them. Labour is distinguished by collective provision and help for those most in need.

That in 1945 to 1951, Labour established health, education and employment public services, free at the point of use, and a social insurance system to support us when times are bad; all to fight five giant social evils. Nationalisation to re-use the surpluses for public good. That from 1997 to 2010 the Labour Party has shown how we can achieve more as a country and for our people, if we provide better services for all, and that the potential of the country and our people can be increased if we do more to help those who need most help. Spending in the NHS more than trebled and the waiting list, in effect, abolished. Enabled cos so many more people were in work, contributing rather than drawing support.

The stark contrast is with the mass unemployment of the eighties and with writing people off from the field of work; even now the Tories are advocating tax breaks for millionaires first and foremost.

These differences come from our different sets of beliefs and ways of seeing the world. And the impact on the outcomes are stark.

So what then distinguishes Labour? Equality (or as Bernard Crick says, no unjustifiable inequalities). Social and workplace justice; striving for the many, not the few. Creating the security necessary to have a good life, to look after friends and family, to achieve; and for others to be able to do that too. A much stronger belief in the benefits public ownership can bring.

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In public life, I seek to test ideas and proposals against the following –
– values; (stated in less than 30 words!) – achieving more together than we do apart; helping those most who need most help; a more equal society; care and concern for the environment;
– reform; establishing clarity and impact of ambition, existence of planning and outcomes (and their measurement), and the capability, capacity and culture of parties to deliver change; testing credibility; seeking to inspire;
– customer focus, including testing delivery of public services as if there was one unified public service, and value for money;
– celebrating our places and developing them; (the visual amenity, the local history);
– predicting, mitigating and meeting the challenges of the future;
– public commitments I’ve made, including at elections.

Expanding on reform: as Chair of Governors at a school serving possibly the most deprived cohort of children in the region, I know how much we sought to fulfil their potential, through extra service, new services like children’s centres and ever better education at our schools. But reform was vital – showing we were making a difference with new money. Drawing on new learning and long established principles. Accounting for the quality of leadership, management, teaching and learning; action on findings and on denial.

As for meeting the challenges of the future, briefly stated, I think these include –
– equipping people for an increasingly globalised economy;
– an ageing population, with more people requiring special care;
– mitigating climate change and adapting to it;
– preparing for increasing costs of energy, and wildly varying prices of energy;
– recognising the precious nature of oil and adapting the circumstance that the peak in oil production across the world has probably having been reached, at a time when the demand for it is expected to grow;
– terrorism and fundamentalism.
There are opportunities too, not least the removal of nuclear weapons across the world, now possible post cold war.

But there were new priorities too and part of any representative’s role must not only to be wise after the event, but to do more to anticipate and mitigate the challenges we face, and to require others to do more. An obvious example is action on climate change. Regulation is often seen as an example of a response, but we should also seek the kind of accountability that requires all making major policy decisions to be able to account for their decisions.
The most obvious being those running our banks. Why aren’t the bankers who created the problems in a position where they can be brought to book? Maybe then, those responsible would have taken more care.

To these aims, I hope to bring my experience and particular expertise I have in IT and project management, or that I can draw upon (e.g. railways).

And draw upon the knowledge of others.

If there are writings I look to then, it is probably those of Bernard Crick. A socialist and (as the author of “In Defence of Politics”) a champion of party politics as the only tested alternative to government by coercion. No coincidence that he should write a biography of George Orwell and help develop the concept of British citizenship used at the new citizenship ceremonies.
Crick’s values were said to be prudence, conciliation, compromise, variety, adaptability and liveliness, but I think he had a greater determination for change than the list implies, to have made a difference for good.
Crick wrote of British Socialism, and for all the things that have gone wrong, we should reflect that there is a lot of good done by the British and by Britain. Our early civil war resulted in an embrace for tolerance of people’s views and of each other, which led to us being ideally suited for taking on the new technological knowledge and ideas that were to lead us to become a major industrial power and for English (unsupervised by an authority) to become flexible and powerful enough to be the “lingua franca” (oh yes) of modern popular culture. It is entirely in our nature for us to take the best the world has to offer and adapt it as ours (just look at our national dishes).
And whatever the protestations of others, the British have been through enough to know, that even though we can cut it on our own, it’s so much better and easier to do it with others, such as Europe, the USA, the Commonwealth and the United Nations.

If these then are my values, beliefs, understandings and commitments, why am I proud in particular, to be Labour.

The personal cannot always be political.
But when citing reasons to be proud of Labour’s progress, it is the personal experiences which bring home that what we did between 1997 and 2010 touch people’s lives and that in turn touched me.
Personal experiences that are a reward for what we do.
So to my personal list of reasons to be Proud to be Labour; proud –
– of the better attainment at schools; results at the school I chaired improved, such that kids from a challenged background, of whom only one-tenth got 5 good GCSEs, but then nearly a half; and memories of watching pupils and parents in school in August finding out what they’d achieved;
– of the best tram in the country; and I remember the joy and the packed trains on the day it opened;
– of the joy people exhibited when they’ve attended their British citizenship event;
– that I could attend a civic partnership ceremony in The Council House, where my friend and colleague, the then next Sheriff of Nottingham, got hitched to Jonathan;
– that when I spoke at a climate change conference in Chicago of the progress made in Britain, American Councilmen could so relate to it, 6 years into George W Bush’s Presidency;
– when pensioners who’d previously been strapped, told me on the doorstep how they felt much better off, as happened often.
– Labour driving the global response to mitigate the global financial crisis.

One thought on “Socialism and a free society

  1. Pingback: Value politics | News and political views

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