I’ve just sat through a largely uninspiring panel at Labour Conference entitled “European Social Democracy: The Path Back To Power”, organised by FEPS and EPLP. Roger Liddle chaired in his charming but rather bumbling manner, and the panellists were Philip Cordery, Roland Rudd, Claude Moraes and Rushanara Ali. None of the panellists actually came very close to answering what the left’s path to power is.
There are 2 crucial points, the ones I made in a quick and rather angry intervention.
The first concerns the narratives used on the left. Narrative was mentioned, but without any prescription of how that narrative could work. Think back in order to look forward – look at the starting paragraph of The Third Way / Die Neue Mitte [pdf here]:
Social democracy has found new acceptance – but only because, while retaining its traditional values, it has begun in a credible way to renew its ideas and modernise its programmes. It has also found new acceptance because it stands not only for social justice but also for economic dynamism and the unleashing of creativity and innovation.
These words offer an essentially optimistic vision of the future, even if the prescription at the end of the day proved to be wrong. The Swedish Social Democrats attempted a Lakoff-style framing exercise – Möjligheternas Land – to try to put together precisely such a vision, but the message did not get through last week. This process needs to be emphasised and promoted across Labour and across centre-left parties.
Secondly, leadership is crucial for the future of the left – without good quality leadership we’re going to be absolutely stuck. Centre left prime ministers backing the right for the presidency of the European Commission, a centre left leader in the European Parliament thinking of his own ego, and low quality leadership at national level. How we managed to get through 2 hours of discussions without mentioning leadership is really beyond me…
Anyway, even out of depressing panels you learn things I suppose.