First: democracy is the precondition for socialism. Democratic systems are essential to the long and short the short-term transformations we are fighting for.
So we need to defend and extend democracy, and never take action that undermines it or belittles it. In fact, the best response to the new far right is to create a “militant democracy” – organised in its own self defence and prepared to limit the rights of fascists, terrorist supporters and genocide advocates.
Second: any party that wants to represent working people has to be prepared to govern. That means being prepared to run the machinery of state and transform it to make power more transparent and accountable and bring it closer to the people.
Third: though I believe capitalism is unjust, prone to crisis and long-term doomed, it is not about to go away any time soon. So every Labour government, no matter how radical, will end up running the capitalist economic system. It follows from this that we can’t proceed from a wish list of nice-to-haves, but need to plan every action according to its effects – on a system, which is both complex and unstable.
Fourth: everything we do has to deliver to working people. Labour’s “mission oriented” renewal plan is designed to do this: through high growth, green energy, safe streets, prompt free healthcare and a first-class education system for your kids. It’s the only way to reverse the low growth, and continuous economic insecurity that is blighting the lives of working class people, families and communities.
Fifth: everything we do has to empower working class people. There is a strong element of “top down” within the Labour tradition, going back to its roots in liberalism and to the Fabian Society, who thought workers were pretty powerless to help themselves. Radical social democracy, by contrast, also draws on the traditions of syndicalism, the co-operative movement and more recently feminism, Black Lives Matter and the climate activist movement, to put self-organisation and control at the centre of all projects.
Sixth: we recognise that the wealth of humanity is not just the product of labour but of Nature too – and so we have to be the stewards of a sustainable environment. That’s always been a socialist principle, but in the era of climate change it demands a major reordering of priorities.
We need a zero net carbon economy by, or before, 2050 to stand a chance of avoiding unpredictable climate chaos. To get there, rich countries have to make the biggest sacrifices. That means that we have to be more interventionist, more statist, more radical in the modal changes we propose to transport, housing and energy than the “normal” social justice agenda requires. At the same time, we have to deliver the “just transition”: we have to demand that, when the price is paid for decarbonising an industry or mode of transport, it is capital, not the workers or consumers, that pays it. It means we need to design a form of capitalism that can deliver zero net carbon before 2050, imposing the transition costs mainly on capital, not labour.
Seventh, in the sphere of international relations we are idealists. It’s no accident that the opposing “realist” tradition emanated from Stalinism and was embraced by the neocons in the 1990s. Being an idealist means accepting morality should apply in the sphere of relationships between states. Practically, it means that the rules based international order has to be the lynchpin of our approach to foreign policy.
That’s why, though I abhor war, and have experienced war as journalist, I accept there are just wars, and that the UK armed forces have a vital role to play in the world – both for our own security and in order to maintain the rules based order. In a world like ours, social democrats don’t have the luxury of being pacifists.
Being an idealist means supporting Ukraine and arming Ukraine to the point where it can inflict defeat on Russia; it means supporting Israel’s right to exist and accepting its right to attack Hamas – even while criticising the unlawful acts and disproportionate nature of the war it is waging in Gaza, and urging compliance with all international court rulings. And, as in the 1930s, it means rearming in the face of totalitarian aggression.
Eighth, it means accepting that exploitation and oppression take many forms, and seeking ways to form the broadest coalition of those fighting back. It means rejecting the idea that “class comes first” or that identity politics are a distraction from the struggle. Social-democrats didn’t originate intersectionality theory, but we should recognise it as an important tool to understand how oppression and exploitation etch their marks on the mind, body and daily experience every person. This, in turn, means we have to build build alliances that respect and allow for difference.
Ninth, social democrats are humanists.In fact, one of the biggest points of difference between ourselves, the far right and the far left is that we venerate the humanist tradition born during the Enlightenment. That’s why we reject the cultural relativism that’s fashionable on the far left, which claims that China should be allowed a “culturally specific” version of democracy, which just happens to privilege its communist elite and leaves thousands of political prisoners in jail.
Finally, the progressive movement is always a coalition. I don’t want to purge, convert or silence people within our movement who don’t agree with me. I want to build broad alliance to achieve specific goals.
We are approaching a critical moment for Labour’s project. The fiscal crisis created by the Liz Truss government means there is not much room for extra borrowing or higher taxes; Labour is betting everything on supply side reform – altering regulations, using state intervention etc to trigger private investment in green tech, and boosting wages.
I support Keir Starmer’s “Securonomics” agenda – but to the extent that there’s resistance, or it works too slowly, we will need to mobilise at the grassroots and push harder for change. But the entry-ticket to the conversation is to support the project itself, not to stand on the sidelines complaining – or actively undermining it.
That’s why I supported Keir Starmer for leader in 2020, and why I will be seeking selection as a Labour candidate in the coming election. If you want to know more about me, and my priorities – get in touch.
Vauxhall and Camberwell Green CLP
National Union of Journalists
Labour Movement for Europe
SERA – Labour’s Environmental Campaign
Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty UK Champion