- Who’s to blame?
In the hours that followed election disaster last week, shock turned quickly to anger, and anger turned quickly to blame.
“When does the Taking Some Fucking Responsibility start?” shouted a furious Marina Hyde at 3am.
I won’t run through all the lists of those considered, by those who (presumably) themselves entirely blameless, to be guilty as fuck and therefore needing to take fucking responsibility. Others have done that. I just wanted to point to one person who’s been omitted from the list of the guilty.
Which is me.
I don’t do this for the joy of it , or the piss take — the last few days have been tough enough. I do so because I hope, that by taking some personal fucking responsibility for the years of deepening misery many people will now endure, and quite possibly for the end of the rule of law as we have known it, I will contribute to moving Labour forward as a force for good in the long years of opposition to come, through the development of a new collective agency of thought and practice based on post-Corbyn principles of lifeworld freedom and autonomy
2. Road to perdition?
On September 12th 2015, the day Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour party, and in a somewhat downhearted post, I indulged in some cod theology, and quoted from Philip Rieff’s The Triumph of the Therapeutic:
The spiritualizers have had their day; nowadays, the best among them appear engaged in a desperate strategy of acceptance, in the hope that by embracing doctrinal expressions of therapeutic aims they will be embraced by the therapeutics; a false hope — the therapeutics need no doctrines, only opportunities. But the spiritualizers persist in trying to maintain cultural contact with constituencies already deconverted in all but name (p.16).
I didn’t bother to explain myself. It was just a quiet marker for later, an expression of my fear that what became known as Corbynism would probably fail: that Corbyn’s ascetic socialism, while now gaining a new set of adherents to join the remnants of the old faithful, would ultimately fail in the face of the instant therapies offered up by the conservative right, which had at its disposal not just the right pills, powders and mind-control techniques (part 3), but also the resources to provide the glossy packaging.
Four years and three months later, I quote from a little further down the same page, in grim recognition that I, along with many other much more important “spokesmen” for the faith, have failed entirely in our supposed mission to restore faith in socialism to the country and that, worse, we hved been living a lie about whether that was even possible:
The death of a culture begins when its normative institutions fail to communicate ideas in ways that remain inwardly compelling, first of all the cultural elites themselves. Many spokesmen for our established normative institutions are aware of their failure and yet remain powerless to generate in themselves the necessary unwitting part of their culture that merits the name of faith (p.16–17).
The four and a quarter year between the two quotes were, understatedly, a mixed bag, and this was reflected in ebbing and flowing faith in the Corbyn project.
A 100 days in to Corbyn’s leadership, I wrote something that would not have looked out of place last Thursday:
Pretending that the Corbyn leadership will magically create the kind of social and political solidarities amongst groups of citizens who currently feel not just that they have nothing in common but who now actively oppose the others’ interests — as a result of a hegemony of the right only reinforced by the financial crisis and now a security crisis — is simply wishful thinking.
We live in an age of — to use Anthony Giddens’ term — of deep ‘ontological security’, much deeper than that of 30 years ago. As I explored a little while ago, the question of what’s wrong with our politics can and perhaps should be recast as a (Rieffian) question about what is so wrong with all of us.
In such insecure times, Doreen’s [the late Doreen Massey’s] vision of an end to the “retail politics” of New Labour and a switch to a “notion of campaigning to change what the electorate might want, to argue for values, and understandings of the world, that may not be popular now but are what the party (says it) stands for” (p.7), reflects a well-meant but hopelessly outdated concept of false consciousness amongst the masses, which can be overcome through a series of courageous political acts and educational endeavours.
But even at that point, I held on to hope that the Corbyn project outside as played out beyond the seminar room might develop a different dynamic:
I think Corbyn, and Corbynism, do constitute a great moment of opportunity for the left — just not the kind of opportunity either Corbyn or most of the Corbynistas are currently aware of, mostly because they’ve not read enough books, like what I have. I think the opportunities are much greater than the Gramscians think, but it will take a wholesale revolution in British leftwing thinking (and consequent action) if we are to seize them.
And I started to go on at length about what that non-Corbynista Corbynism might look like:
Old-style, war-of-position politics, dominated on the British left (and the right, less knowingly) by Gramscian and sub-Gramscian thought cannot deal with this ‘new, kinder politics’, and of course Corbyn’s conduct is itself out of kilter with a vocal minority of so-called Corbynistas, for whom the same old gaining of internal terrain within the same old Labour party remains the same old ‘struggle’.
But there is a strong, coherent, and in some respects remarkably successful leftwing intellectual tradition which does explain not just the ‘kinder politics’ of Corbynism, but also explains why it proved so attractive to both new and old members of the Labour party that it brought Corbyn 60% of leadership votes, and why (perhaps more arguably) the polls about Corbyn’s early days are so conflicting.
This intellectual tradition……has not to date had any traction with the British left, is the Habermasian tradition — a tradition which has had a subtle but powerful influence on German political culture since at least the 1980s and is…….a significant factor not just in Germany’s economic success but also its social cohesion and openness (at least relative to the UK).
But none of this ever happened.
While I was foostering around on a blog that no-one read any longer (it had been popular), Seamus Milne and others from the Hard Left (for want of a better phrase for now), unlikely to be receptive to Habermasian strategy even if they knew what it was, had taken control of the leader’s office, and the neo-Gramscian politics of war-positioning and what became known as ‘left populism became the modus operandi both in and outside that office.
The polls continued, famously, to conflict. and then May’s disastrous 2017 campaign created the space for the Corbynite bubble to expand.
Reflecting this expansion, Owen Jones — who a few months earlier had cast great doubt on the electoral validity of the Corbyn project, even as I was going the other way— finally threw in his lot with the project, presumably believing that the direction of travel was now set. Owen entered the bubble.
The emergent young voices of Novara Media joined him in the bubble, and airtime started to be accorded. If you had entered the bubble yourself, it was a good time.
Come this post-May summer of constitutional crisis, Labour was faced with a stark choice: reach an accommodation with the other anti-Tory parties to wrest power away from a Tory party then on its parliamentary, but not electoral, knees, or believe that the polls would narrow as in 2017, assuming presumably that Johnson’s campaign would have learned nothing from that experience, and go for an election.
From outside the bubble, I was clear enough on the choice: via some lateral thinking around a participatory process of agreement with the other parties, it would be best to depose a new regime which had already showed scant regard for the rule of law.
It is a cold comfort, I suppose, to learn now that this was also John McDonnell’s view. But by then (and I suspect it had been the case for some time), even John was outside the bubble, looking in, hoping for the best that his more impetuous, but self-confident, colleagues were right.
Bubble-think won out. The early election route was chosen. We know the rest.
3. Who not to blame
A whole lot of the blame throwing in the last week has been in the direction not just of Corbyn himself, though of course he has been the main target, but of the group of mostly young people who became known as his ‘outriders’ in the media.
And I think this is wholly unjustified.
What Owen and Ash and Aaron and Faiza and the others did, in throwing off any lingering doubts and going into full throttle, uncritical support was and remains perfectly defensible .
As eloquent contributors to a distributed Corbyn fanzine, they did what they thought was right, but they were not, and could not be expected to be, the kind of public intellectual that Corbynism needed if it was to take a better direction .
Put simply, that wasn’t the job they had chosen. They did as well as they could in the job they had chosen, peddling their wares in any media that would have them; if they’d not done it then someone else would, and probably not as well. No surprise, therefore, that they became part of the institutional self-delusion that was late Corbynism (and into which, once the election was called, I entered myself; I could not have got through the cold wet hours without doing so).
4. Mea culpa
The (as yet unaccorded) blame for the Corbyn disaster lies not with the fans, or the fanzine editors, but with me, and people like me.
To explain this, I first need to do something I’ve never really done before, and that’s to big myself up as (beginner) public intellectual, of the type that could and should have been at the heart of serious attempts to re-orientate Corbynism.
That is why, above, I’ve set out in the quote-heavy detail above, the very early doubts I had about the Corbyn project alongside — more importantly — my understanding that, while the neo-Gramscian delusions of left populism would be Labour’s undoing if they were allowed to flourish, Corbyn himself could become a useful cipher for a new Habermasian Labourism.
This Labourism would have as a core principle a commitment to lifeworld autonomy and a central right to participation , though — and here is the current tragedy but also the hope for the future — much of the core economic policy behind this new commitment might bear a striking resemblance to the (actually popular) policies put forward for this election.
I understood all this, even four years ago. I articulated it reasonably well.
But I didn’t actually do anything about it.
Instead, and reflecting what I’ve set out above, I foostered. I wrote blogs in the vain hope that, because back in the days of Liberal Conspiracy I had been quite widely read by both the left and centre-left as then composed, at some point my words would ‘go viral’ again. Im particular, I deluded myself that I would start, at some point, to get cut-through because I understood so much more than I had done when I was a popular writer.
This was bunk, and an abrogation of responsibility. The world had changed. Social media had been captured by the mainsteam media, and independent voices like mine had been squeezed out. No-one was going to read my stuff anymore.
Ironically, in my own personal toxic mix of passive-aggressive arrogance and barbed diffidence, I was making the same error as the Labour centrists I criticized in my writing (though Chris Dillow did it much better); I sought solace in earlier, successful ways ways of doing things while refusing to come to terms with the reality that material conditions had changed to make that earlier success impossible to replicate.
This diffidence-as-abrogation took different forms of failure. When Momentum was established, and I still thought it might be guided in a useful direction towards actual community organizing, I offered to try and set up a branch for Skelmersdale. In reply to my offer, I was told that this was not a suitable geography, and that what I would need to do, if their new control over the party’s mechanism was to be established, would be to inaugurate a branch covering two CLP areas, inclusive of four small-t-medium towns and a whole of of semi-rural hinterland. I refused, because that was clearly inappropriate to Momentum’s then stated purpose, but I left it at that, happy in the knowledge that i had acted with personal integrity.
Later, when it was clear, that Momentum really was a Gramscian war of position for control over the party. I applied for the National Coordinator post, offering a ‘radical’ re-visioning of its community organiser purpose, and a route towards voluntary dissolution. Then I blogged about it. Heh, it made me feel good, but it wasn’t actually a meaningful act.
At the same time, I took to ‘amusing’ hashtags around the pretend existence of Habermasian Labour, in the ever vainer hope that someone might actually be interested. No-one was. I became a sideline sniper of the type that I reviled, and actually had to write myself a stern blog to stop become a full-blown troll. I still owe Suzanne Moore a proper apology for one particularly shameful tweet.
Most seriously, I failed to pursue with vigour the proposals I set out for the tackling of anitsemitism within the Labour party, withdrawing again into cynical ‘humour’ when my emails were ignored or, on one occasion, I was lied to by an MP, who assured me that something very like the development I was advocating was in hand and that I had no need to worry.
I just didn’t try hard enough, and in the end Labour’s failure is also my political and personal failure.
5. Nostra culpa
We knew, this thing at least we knew, — the worth
Of life: this was our secret learned at birth.
We knew that Force the world has deified,
How weak it is. We spoke not, so men died.
Upon a world down-trampled, blood-defiled,
Fearing that men should praise us less, we smiled.
Margaret Sackville (1961)
It’d be nice to think that, unlike 1914–1918, at least nobody died. But of course they did. And will.
.I’ve tried to lay bare my soul, perhaps a bit melodramatically; it’s hard to dispel from my writing, at one sitting, years of that arrogant diffidence. Still, it’s been a tough week.
And of course, it wasn’t just me. My understanding of the politics we are now living is good — and my experience of grassroots politics and organizing is long — but I make no claim to have had THE solution to Labour’s woes.
There are others, broadly on Labour’s side, who could have been part of efforts to redirect it while there was still time, but who also ended up on the sidelines, sniping, hoping Seamus Milne would click on the right link one day, wander into Jeremy’s office, and announce a change of strategy — a strategy that would mean putting off the election for a bit and one which, shocjk horror, might require Jeremy to stand down because his past did not fit this future.
When, in post-election defence, wounded but die-hard Corbynistas say (link) that centrists had nothing to offer as an alternative, this is not strictly true.
Certainly there was little or nothing on show from the PLP — and this broad lack of intellectual capacity on its parliamentary benches is something that Labour will need to address through different job descriptions and personal specification as part of a wider reform of the party’s structures — there was actually stuff out there which could have formed the basis for a whole new approach to being in parliamentary opposition had there been a process for taking it into the existing party structures.
My reading is not wide — I do still have to earn a bit of a living alongside several non-profit roles — but even I know that there are important points of connection between my own proposals and:
the thinking of Anthony Painter at the RSA on institutions that value the individual;
of both Jon Lawrence and Joe Kennedy on the proper  sociology and anthropology of the towns and estates which did, or did not, for their reasons of their own, inconveniently unique histories, go Tory on December 12th;
of Bonnie Honig on the emergence of new ‘political’ demands and how that might fit with a new politics of participation; and
of actually sitting unused within Labours PLP, Stella Creasy’s work (see also note 3) on the potential for the melding of Habermasian lifeworld autonomy focus with the enabling features of social psychology insights ).
And there’s intellectual ballast behind this current stream of what I’ve called, perhaps also in the old passive-aggressive mode, ‘radical centrism’ (I’d actually defend it robustly as a socialism, in the same way as Paul Mason defends his ‘radical humanism’ as a socialism for a free, networked, 21st century socialism).
In particular, there’s Amartya Sen, whose ‘The Idea of Justice’ reprises and updates not just his and Martha Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach, but sets the framework for that approach to be embedded in new democratic forms based on ‘social choice’.
But in addition, and perhaps more a ‘winner’ when it comes persuading Labour’s warring factions to agree that rhey do not totally disagree, we could have and should have reached back to the earlier insights of RH Tawney on the need to reclaim the true spirit of liberalism from the liberals; and then, more healingly, the work of Anthony Giddens on post-emancipatory politics which, while not leading itself to a political strategy suited to a time beyond the spatio-temporal fix of financialized capitalism, did set out very well the demands that a people who had experienced that ‘fix’ for a proportion of their lives, and without which ‘fix’ they would not and did not confer the legitimacy of government.
It was all there to be had, but there was no cut-through from the people who could have provided it and who, even though I berate myself for personal failure, were often in a much better place, in terms of institutional status, networks and credibility, than a middle-aged bloke blogging from a back room in Lancashire .
There were to main reasons for this lack of cut-through, which I think it’s important to summarize before moving on to what comes next, precisely because, if we are to establish a new collective agency as ‘radical centrists’ (I’m not bothered what we’re called), we need to learn lessons from our collective failure this time around.
First, and as I’ve already touched on in my soul-baring, political media has changed significantly in the past few years, and I think there were others, like me, who didn’t cope with that change.
An example might help. Back in 2011, just four people working in and around the think-tank world came together and publish a four-page pamphlet called In The Black Labour. From memory, there was not a whole lot of PR razzmatazz about it, but it cut right through to the heart of Miliband’s strategy in opposition. Within a short space of time, the fiscal cauion recommendations at the heart of the paper were picked up by the Shadow Chancellor, and there was a significant policy shift, later largely consolidated as the election position, away from Ed Balls’ earlier distinctly Keynesian stance.
I actually think the cut-through of this paper was very damaging to Labour’s 2015 election prospects, but this is not the issue at hand here. The issue is simply that, come 2017, there is no way on earth that such a paper could have got the kind of hearing it did then, for the simple reason that it would have been drowned out by the cacophony of other, mainstream media voices.
Minority voices, trying to get a hearing for a radical centrism, will need not just to take the sheer noise political media environment into account this time round, but have a strategy to bypass it.
The second reason is closely related.
What did, pretty obviously, get cut-through in Labour and near-Labour circles in 2015, was the spirit of revolt against the Labour mainstream, in favour of what became Corbynism. That’s why we are where we are.
But the early stages of the revolt did not happen online. What set the Labour party on its way to Corbyn and Corbynism were the organizational efforts of real people, hardened by years of campaigning in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and other leftwing ‘struggles’ commenced in the 1980s, and still prepared to put in the hours for their cause.
We might well argue that that cause was misguided, but its success in getting Corbyn the leadership teaches us one important lesson: it’s the organized teams who win stuff. That’s a lesson those committed to a new form of Labourism need to take on board as we try to push our product. There are no free rides in Labour politics.
6. The road to redemption
We are not all the why down the road to perdition just yet. There is a final fork, just along the way, that leads of into a narrow pass through the Mountains of Opposition, and beyond there lie more fertile pastures. Let’s call them the Pastures of Redemption, then we can knock the clunky religious metaphors on the head for the rest of this essay.
Five years is a long time to be in opposition, needless to say. There is time to build not just a new programme for government, but a new political vision of a government’s relation to individuals-in-search-of-autonomy upon which, in time, enough of those individuals-in-search-of-autonomy will confer enough legitimacy to allow it to happen .
The number of individuals-in-search-of-autonomy needed for it to happen will be higher than it was on December 12th, and their votes will need to add up in different places. The Tories will gerrymander constituencies to make it harder for Labour to gain a majority, Scotland may not be around to help out with a progressive coalition, and while it is true that some older people who did not confer legitimacy this time around will not be repeat the trick, and will have been replaced by younger people who may decide to confer it, this pro-Labour demographic change will be counterbalanced by the fact that in many of the new Tory ‘thin red wall’ constituencies the number of older people as a percentage of the whole population will still be much higher than it was 30 or 40 years ago.
These hard realities mean that the only way in which Labour can hope to gain power again is both by keeping on side those whom its current identity-threat left populism (see also note 6) is at least more palatable than Tory rule, and bringing on side those that it has alienated.
The challenge is, it goes without saying, to do this from opposition, but it is a challenge which can be met if a new leadership commits to this new ‘third way’ early on (and indeed wins the leadership campaign by committing to it), including the difficult first steps, which will need to involve both a root and branch restructure of the Labour party and a shift in the way the big unions resource the resulting new structure.
Each element of what is needed merits a chapter of its own (and in time it will get it) but, briefly, the new third way, from opposition, will need to include the following areas of party activity in opposition, all of which will need to be defined and described, in “practice what we preach” manner, as part of the new ‘faith’ in the autonomous, voluntary participation.
First, and most obviously, we need a decisive, nationwide , set of actions to tackle our festerin antisemitism problem. As I’ve set out, mu view is that this is best done by a ‘kitemarking’ operation run by an arm’s length (in that it is independently governed but initially centrally funded by the Labour party) whose task it is to quality-assure party units down to their lowest spatial; level, and in so doing encourage those units to take up the challenge of seeing off antisemitic language and (online) behaviours.
For the most part, Labour’s antisemitism is rooted in the conflation of Israel’s actions (against Palestinians and being Jewish, and the Jew-as-moneylender/banker trope. In turn these category errors are rooted in a perverted commitment to social justice, whether that be defence of Palestinians or the war on the finance industry rent-seekers. This is what make antisemitism particular to the Labour party (though of course it exists, in different forms, outside the party).
As such, Labour’s antisemitism is, I suggest, remediable (though of course it would be foolish to suggest it can be entirely eradicated) through the kind of locally sourced education and awareness-raising that a kitemarking programme would encourage, especially if that programme is linked to funding under a restructured party system (see below).
Second, the party needs to be restructured both organizationally and financially, so that constituencies and constituency offices become centres for social action, both in support of those who will be hardest hit by the Johnson regime, and miore progressively, especially around local climate change mitigation initiatives.
Space here does not permit a full scoping of how this restructure might take place, but it could be something close to the radical proposals that I set out for the Collins Review back in 2013. At the core of these proposals is the necessity to reverse the financial flows within the party, including trade union monies, so that local party units are well-resourced.
As part of this new focus on local resourcing, we should now be looking to reboot, for the 21st century, the Trades Council concept, with an emphasis on the re-professionalization of public services (as I set out in some detail after the 2015 election disaster)
Third, and allied to the second as a method of engaging Labour’s new activists, who will otherwise drift away, we need to get legalistic.
By this, I mean that Labour should look to engage in a range of campaigns in which they demand local power (and resources) from the centre.
In particular, we should (alongside parliamentary support for a wider Community Powers Act) look to employ the existing Sustainable Communities Act 2007/2010 over a wide range of locally relevant issues, though with a mind to coordination with other council areas where relevant.
Powers sought by local government might include:
the power to accord settled status to EU27 citizens now at grave risk from an even more ‘hostile environment’, using local administrative data, with that function devolved from the Home Office (see detailed proposal and draft submission);
the power to ‘Dutch Auction’ empty town centre retail premises with a view to keeping high streets and shopping centres alive (see this excellent proposal);
the power to intervene in school academization processes where there is no clear evidence that academization will improve a school’s provision;
the power for social workers to authorize as much spending as is necessary to provide appropriate support for ‘children in need’,, in line with the legal duties under section 17 of the Children’s act 1989.
This is just a sample, to show the range of what challenges might be addressed in opposition. On many, even most occasions, the government will resist, even refuse to engage, but this should not be seen as a defeat; the very raising of the issues, especially in the context of a regime apparently committed to eording the rule of law, will still be important emergizers.
Finally, though I will not cover it in detail here, Labour needs as part of it new recognition of the realities of the electoral maths, make the first approaches to the Green party and to the tatters of the LibDem party to work out how to build an effective coalition against the increasingly far right. Especially towards the Greens, this will be need to be done in a spirit of generosity and humility, recognizing the validity and integrity of the Green case, and offering commensurate level of influence on the direction of such a coalition.
There will be no proportional representation for years to come, so we need to build an alternative ourselves, via the participatory mechanisms which should have been deployed this past summer, but which do at least remain available
7. Taking the lead
That, in broad brush terms, is the kind of practical action in which Labour should be investing as it enters the long years of opposition, but whatever we get up to should be framed as efforts to create the material conditions for people — all people — to live their lives as they choose, secure enough in their own identities to remain convivial with their neighbours, secure enough to become part of the circles of virtue they choose.
That should be the golden thread, and should replace the damaging 99%/1% narrative of populism deployed, ultimately to disastrous effect.
But I cannot blog such a transformation into existence.
Learning the lessons from what I’ve set out above, the small band of ‘radical centrists’ that currently do little more than shout from the sidelines about how awful it#s going to be, need to get stuck in, providing the persuasive arguments, doing the right networking, working the party, to set us on this different course.
And it needs to happen soon. The Labour leadership battle is starting up in earnest and, by the end of it, the anointed leader will need to have taken on board what the radical centrists have to offer, and set it out in her/his very first speech to the party (and thus to the public). Failure to make this happen will almost certainly see us head further down the road to perdition, either via capitulation to Blue Labour’s misconceptions, or a belief that Corbynism without Corbyn will see us through.
There are positive signs. It looks like Alex Sobel, the Chair of Open Labour and one of the more thoughtful Labour MPs around, is up for some fresh thinking about how we deal with opposition, and some of it is actually quite close in intent to what I set out in my Collins Review submission six years ago (see above).
Indeed, it is possible that Open Labour may be precisely the vehicle we need, given that it has an existing infrastructure, some credibility across the party, but is also something of an ‘empty vessel’ when it come to the kind of Labour party it wants to see; beyond a vague commitment to pluralism within the party, it’s been difficult to see exactly what it stands for since its creation in 2016, and a dose of radical centrism, or whatever term is chosen to differentiate from the rest, might be just what it needs.
Whatever vehicle is chosen, though, one thing is clear: it’s time to take some fucking responsibility.
 There is a somewhat separate question, raised by Sarah Ditum, of whether this group of young journalist activists’ main fault was to betray the objectivity of journalism:
Corbyn’s 2015 victory in the leadership election caused a problem for outlets on the Left that has never adequately been solved. How do you give an avidly Corbynite readership the avidly Corbynite writing they want, without losing the scepticism that is fundamental to journalism? The answer seemed to be to junk the scepticism, and take an increasing chunk of their commentary from the “outriders” who blurred the line between journalism and activism.
While Sarah is gracious enough to acknowledge, as I do, tht the “outrider” journalism she critiques was “sincere”, her main thrust is that it is this kind of journalism that cost Labour the election.
As I’ve set out above, I disagree. What cost Labour the election (alongside allowing it to be called in the first place) was a failure by people like me to offer a different political vision and strategy.
But the most glaring problem with Sarah’s piece is its failure to set Owen and the others journalistic activism in the context of the wider degradation of what used to be a profession with agreed standards of conduct (notably, telling the truth). Owen and the others can hardly be single out for blame for seeking to fight polemical fire with polemical fire. The real challenge for all journalists, including Sarah, is to work out how the profession caan be pre-professionalized.
 Let me be clear here. I am not saying that this people didn’t have the capacity to be public intellectuals of the type we needed to redirect Corbynism. They are all obviously highly intelligent beings, and it may be that this will now be their chosen route. I am simply saying that this is not the job for Labour that they chose to do.
 This “right to participation” as central aim of a Labourism remade under Habermasian principles represents the point of divergence between myself and Neal Lawson. While we come to the phrase independenty of each other, Neal assumes the following:
Today we live with an inalienable right to participation.
By this, and from the context of his essay, I think he means to say that this right to participate already exists in full, and that people in towns up and down the country just need to be encouraged, by way of the examples of good practice he gives, to take up that right and exercise it, thus creating some kind of momentum of collective action which will, as a by-product of new found solidarity, bring with it a new Labour government.
I disagree. As I’ve set out previously, a “right to participate” should be a core goal for a refreshed labour movement precisely because the material conditions for it do not currently exist. Taking such a goal on board will enable labour to structure its new policy development much more effectively, not least in terms of electoral appeal, although as I’ve set out above many of the economic tools will be similar to the current ones, though mediated by institutions more sensitive to ‘lifeworld’ needs.
This incidentally, is precisely what Stella Creasy understands in her PhD thesis, where she combines the notmative lifeworld-enhancing projects of Habermas and Bourdieu with the psychological insights of Moscovici to produce a set of recommendations which go beyond her academic focus on the tackling of social exclusion and can be applied to the development of inclusive but voluntaristic social networks mote widely.
That is why I will back Stella for the leadership or deputy leadership (the latter may be better as this stage) if she decides to go for it.
 Whenever I make, in my thinking and my as yet not book-formed scribblings, an analogy between the emergence of a new form of faith and the new secular politics of Enlightenment which I espouse, I am drawn to Habermas’ bible-based observation:
The non-communist Left has no reason to be downhearted [and must adapt to the challenge of] transforming socialist ideas into the radically reformist self-criticism of a capitalist society, which, in the form of a constitutional democracy with universal suffrage and a welfare state, has developed not only weaknesses but also strengths. With the bankruptcy of state socialism, this is the eye of the needle through which everything must pass, (The Rectifying Revolution, New Left Review, 1990)
 Of course, as I try to strip away the veneer of diffidence that has contributed to my failures to date, I should make a more honest declaratioon here. Yes, i’m writing this is a backroom in Lancashire, but I don’t spend all my time there.
I am Acting Chair and Treasurer to a relatively high-profile London-based non-profit which seeks to build a progressive movement through community organizing and through the development of ‘alternative’ media voices, and I hold or have held a number of other quite senor public service roles.
Yes, I am by nature a backroom boy, but it’s not as though I am entirely unable to make the right kind of contact with the right kind of people, and thereby to become a key player in the right kind of redirection of the Labour party.
It’s just the layered arrogance (and laziness) which have stopped me getting stuck in.
 This notion of the public conferring legitimacy on a government is drawn directly from Habermas’ ‘Legitimation Crisis’.
“Crises [of legitimacy] arise”, says Habermas:
when the structure of a social system allows fewer possibilities for problem solving than are necessary to the continued existence of the system (p.2).
Crucially, though, what constitutes a crisis is always a subjective matter:
Only when members of a society experience structural alterations as critical for continued existence and feel their social identity threatened can we speak of crisis (p.3).
It is around this threat to social identity, I have contended here and in my pre-election companion essay, where Labour has fallen short in its offer.
Labour’s Gramscian left populism, with the imposition of 99% vs 1% (victims vs villains) identities, created an ontological threat to existing social identities, which revolve around personal autonomy and freedom to be who we say we are, not who the state, represented by a glowering, Jeremy Corbyn, tells is we should, or must, be.
The re-fashioning of Labour as a legitimate force must, therefore, restore that sense of autonomy.
 When I say stress that Jon and Joe’s work consititutes a proper sociology and anthropology of towns and estates, I do of course mean to contrast it with Blue Labour’s mythology of community, or what Anthony Painter has, cuttingly, called “the Blue Labour bromides about place, nation, family.”
Blue Labour’s take on why Labour lost, and what it needs to do now warrants a couple of thousand words of take down in itself, precisely because the re-visioning of Labour that I seek to set out here should be its polar opposite.
Pending that longer examination though, I would summarize Blue Labour’s failure as its failure to work out what it means by cultural or social conservatism.
As I said here, if by “culturally conservative” Blue Labour’s advocates means something like “being deeply attached to their communities and resistant to change because they fear their communities will be changed for the worse because of it”, I think they’re dead wrong (and have never been to Ireland).
If, on the other hand by “culturally conservative” something like “being attached to the people they know, love and see in the pub, and broadly just wanting to be left alone by the ‘authorities’ to enjoy the fruits of their labour like their mum & dad were, not having to bother about stuff that doesn’t really affect them” then they’re onto something.
I suspect they broadly mean the former, but I will be genuinely interested to see if what they produce in the next few weeks addresses this definitional issue, and if so what their definition is.
Early signs are not good.