Following my re-election as Chair of Hornsey &Wood Green Labour Party at our AGM earlier this month, one of my priorities is to improve communication with our many members and supporters. As part of this, we are ensuring that this website is regularly updated with important national and local news. And I will be curating what, I hope, will be an interesting weekly blog, written by myself and others.
Brexit, the refugee crisis, Heathrow, Syria - so many pressing topics to write about in this first blog. But my week and my thoughts have been dominated by the arrival of my first grandchild. Hardly a unique event - but every birth is transformative. A reminder of the beauty of life. The beauty and warmth of humanity. Who can look into the eyes of a new born baby, who looks deep into your own, without melting. The joy and happiness that radiates from the new baby, the sense of solidarity and support without boundaries, the unadulterated love that reminds of the goodness of humanity. And who cannot feel an enormous responsibility to build a better world for this little baby, and a world where very baby has similar opportunities to this one.
My grandson, on current life expectancy, will live beyond 2100, while I was born in 1952. A span of 150 years which will see the most dramatic change this planet has ever seen. Yet the left seems to have a less of a vision for the future than anytime in our history. Far too often we have an understanding of yesterday, and policies to address yesterday but not tomorrow. At its best, the left has attempted a comprehensive understanding of society and its antagonisms, and has seemed to own the future - with both a vision of a better society and a realistic programme to address immediate problems and start a transformation towards that vision. More importantly, Labour has appeared to win electoral majorities particularly when it was seen to have such a vision.
The 1945 victory came from a yearning for a more social, more collective society - wartime solidarity wiping away the misery of the 'thirties - and without the "traitor class" in command. Labour and the ambition of working people in tune.
1964 saw an optimism about the future expressed in Harold Wilson's talk of the "White heat of the technological revolution". Labour seemed to represent a new modern democratic world - rising living standards and oppprtunities in new industries, and social, gender, racial modernisation counterposed with a tired, class riddled aristocratic patrician Tory party.
In 1997 Labour was in tune with a desire for a kinder society, beyond Thatcherism which knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.
In contrast, after the 2008 crash, which was the most profound economic and political shock in my lifetime, we failed to rise to the challenge. Gordon Brown may have "saved the world" with enormously important global fiscal stimulation, but Labour seemed to be associated with incremental rather than a radical response to the crisis. The global capitalist system failed (notwithstanding the many benefits produced by the 1997 government which worked within the parameters set previously) and cataclysmic economic and social crisis was only avoided by desperate sticking plasters. Whether we call it new-liberalism, free market capitalism or deregulated capitalism, it imploded, and broke its known internal economic "laws". Gramsci wrote about another crisis that "the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the the old is dying but the new is not yet ready to be born, and in that interregnum morbid symptoms arise". Veryappropriate words for 2008 and after.
The anti austerity movement and economists developed effective critiques of where we have been - but the clear voices that suggest the economic architecture of the next period are relatively quiet. And at at a time when apart from this unresolved and profound crisis in our economic system, we face the two biggest challenges of my lifetime - climate change and a new industrial revolution.
Climate change if not addressed much more robustly across the world, will dominate my new grandson's life. He will see big rises in sea level flooding populated areas, desertification of large areas, famine, wars over water, mass movements of people - will we bequeath him that nightmare or will we redirect effort and investment so that we can develop the exciting technologies and ways of living which can transform the environment? We show no sign of appreciating the magnitude of the challenge.
Alongside climate change, our economy and labour market will be dramatically changed by the disruptive power of new technologies which will amount to a new industrial revolution - but perhaps even more profound in it's effect on society. Some of this is not so new but represents the acceleration in the impact of the "new technology" we have talked about for years. Mass Fordist manufacturing industry employing millions on good trade union wages is gone for ever - we need to retain and rebuild manufacturing and green industry but it will be niche and/or comparatively worker-less. The impact of technology is accelerating in the service sector, with the elimination of routine tasks as computers take over. But we are now on the cusp of a new transformation - the gig economy, uberisation of work, where a third of "employees" receive their work from an app, the network revolution disrupting everything and artificial Intelligence about to burst on the serene in a big way. . With possibilities of great increases in productivity and better consumer experiences, but appalling degradation of work experiences, wages and job security, and rapid concentration of wealth, not just to the 1% but to the 0.1% , the left faces big questions - which so far we have been good at posing but poor at answering. A profoundly divided society, with relatively authoritarian control seems one terrible possibility , while the technology also holds out oppprtunitiesfor democratisation of the economy. But how? What employment will my grandson have - unlike any previous generation where there would have been a range of possibilities, and aspirations, I have not a clue even what jobs will exist in 20 years.
Never has it been more important for the left to be thinking and talking, so that we can develop a coherent vision for the future. We used to do a lot of this. Marxists, Fabians, utopian socialists, Tribunites, "reformist" social democrats like Crosland, all had a sense of the future based on their understanding of today. Ed Miliband was clearly a thinker, responding to big ideas but failed to either carry the party or supporters. Many others, from Marianna Mazzucatto to Paul Mason analyse and propose. But too often, we propose solutions to yesterday's problems, and entrenched in yesterday's thinking. Many on left and right in party don't seem to recognise the scale of the transformation we face.
So I'm thinking of the future inspired by my new grandson. If our people have a sense of the future, that is optimistic and inclusive rooted in the humanity that I felt around the new baby, and understand how our immediate policies fit into this vision, we lay the basis for a winning majority.
We need to campaign really hard about today's issues - against grammar schools, for least worse. Brexit terms, for house building, for our NHS and win elections- but we also need to think and debate.
We have an enormous local Labour Party. I hope that we can campaign and talk about these vital political ideas.