Political Economy and the Labour Party

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Political Economy and the Labour Party: the Post-war Period | SpringerLink

In Britain in particular, economic democracy has a long and impressive lineage going back to the dawn of the industrial revolution, while the birth of the modern cooperative movement — which now boasts a billion members worldwide — can be traced back to the Rochdale Pioneers. None of this is about selling a fantasy.

Real-world examples of democratic, participatory economic alternatives exist in communities across the globe.


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Worker ownership, cooperatives, municipal enterprise, land trusts, public banks, and a host of kindred institutional forms all represent ways in which capital can be held in common by both small and large publics. They illuminate how practical new approaches can generate innovative solutions to deep underlying problems.

Explore the new agenda

These institutional alternatives breathe new life into old traditions of economic democracy through the democratisation of wealth. Widely described as a merely social democratic programme, For the Many Not the Few in fact contains the seeds of a radical transformation beyond social democracy.

McDonnell Says Labour Consulting With Other Parties on U.K. Election Timing

For Corbyn, McDonnell, and their aides, the manifesto is clearly a jumping off point and not the last word on economic change. This report represents the outlines of the most exciting economic programme to be developed for the Labour Party in many years. It models the way in which the wider UK left should now be rolling up its sleeves and getting to work, going beyond rhetoric to detailed institutional design and policy formulation. A well-attended conference in London in February began to give these ideas a serious airing in the wider movement.

There are huge potential benefits to pursuing a massive expansion of democratic ownership in Britain. By one estimate, , such businesses could close in the next five years if the retiring owners are unable to find a buyer, putting between two and four million jobs at risk.

The Manifesto and Beyond

Corbynism seeks to displace such financialised economic forms with democratic alternatives of real benefit to ordinary people. At the same time, Labour is promising to help reconstitute the social basis for popular power through a long-overdue repeal of the Thatcher restrictions on trade union activity. A system of Labour Courts with specialist judges would also be created, as would — significantly for the broader economic and political power of unions — a new legal entitlement to engage in industrial action in support of other workers in disputes, heralding the return of the possibility of secondary strike action.

The elements of the new political economy already under development will go a long way in this regard. However, much more remains to be done. The idea of a National Education Service clearly fits within such an approach, with cradle-to-grave access to education affording individuals opportunities for self-development independent of their economic means. The NES could be a transformative institution, as important to twenty-first century democratic socialism in Britain as the NHS has been over the past seventy years. But clearly it is an idea in need of further elaboration, so as to design an institutional structure that could make good on such an ambitious promise.

The NES points towards a broader agenda that asks what other kinds of social entitlements might be brought outside of the domain of the market and re-imagined as elements of democratic citizenship. Recent work on Universal Basic Services suggests that there may be scope for providing a range of social services on a universal basis — from public transport to access to information via the internet — thereby increasing the size of the social sphere and the benefits of citizenship, whilst empowering individuals through reducing their dependence on market outcomes.

Finally, more thinking is needed in a number of major policy areas, from monetary policy to big data to the need for a managed deflation of the housing market and a new approach to pensions. Simply by way of example, there are clearly unanswered questions on trade and on economic planning — both of which are likely to take on increased importance in the contexts of Brexit and climate change.

Given its enormous economic footprint, the NHS has the potential to become the mother of all anchor institutions, providing the backbone for an industrial strategy around the production of goods and services for health and community wellbeing. This would represent the very opposite of neoliberal extraction, keeping public funds in circulation, anchoring jobs and building community wealth, reversing long-term economic decline in disinvested regions. In the first instance, the nationalisations of the Labour governments brought the Bank of England, coal, steel, civil aviation, the railways, and all the major utilities electricity, water, and gas into public hands.

By , Labour had reorganised large sections of British industry and assembled a public sector workforce of four million, eighteen per cent of the total.

The transformation of British politics: was it really caused by the 2008 crisis?

A fifth of the economy was in public ownership, with the government sector responsible for a third of net fixed capital formation. For all its shortcomings, this remains today the most radical and far-reaching economic reform programme ever implemented in Britain. The second occasion saw a counterrevolution. The Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major substantially reversed the earlier transformation of ownership. The commanding heights of the economy were all delivered up for auction. Between and Britain racked up forty per cent of the total value of all assets privatised across the OECD, a massive transfer of wealth from public to private interests.

Most small individual investors sold their shares within a relatively short period, reaping quick capital gains from undervaluation but giving the lie to extravagant promises of a shareholder democracy. In this way the serial privatisations of the Thatcher period helped secure the ascendancy of finance capital and the City.

She well understood the manner in which economic conditions shape the outlooks and interests that fix the boundaries and horizons of political possibility. This lesson should be at the forefront of left thinking as part of any effort to bring about a systematic institutional obliteration of neoliberalism. The last several decades have seen the steady elevation of the interests of the City over the real economy, with significant consequences for the rest of us.

Haute finance is also a source of tremendous instability and risk — the real proximate cause of the past decade of crisis and austerity. But replacing neoliberal capitalism does not mean a mere reversion to the past. It is clear, for example, that a Corbyn government would not simply resurrect the postwar model of public ownership — that of large, top-down, centralised public corporations run by mandarins.

Political Economy

Corbyn and McDonnell have created a hugely important opening for the British left. Like the Attlee and Thatcher programmes before it, Corbynism contains the possibility of conjuring up the conditions for its own political success and consolidation.


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As such, it represents an opportunity for all on the left to support the development of a programme of fundamental change that Britain so urgently needs — and, in so doing, create a powerful model for emulation far beyond our borders. All around the world, parties of the left and centre-left are adrift or in crisis and decline, unsure of their intellectual orientation. In some cases the left has split into rival camps, mired in destructive mutual antipathy.


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  8. Widely described as a merely social democratic programme, For the Many Not the Few in fact contains the seeds of a radical transformation beyond social democracy. There are huge potential benefits to pursuing a massive expansion of democratic ownership in Britain. Corbynism seeks to displace such financialised economic forms with democratic alternatives of real benefit to ordinary people. At the same time, Labour is promising to help reconstitute the social basis for popular power through a long-overdue repeal of the Thatcher restrictions on trade union activity.

    The historical comparison is apt. In the first instance, the nationalisations of the Labour governments brought the Bank of England, coal, steel, civil aviation, the railways, and all the major utilities electricity, water, and gas into public hands.

    Labour Party (UK)

    By , Labour had assembled a public sector workforce of four million, eighteen per cent of the total, while a fifth of the economy was in public ownership. Despite a great deal of mythology to the contrary, the nationalised industries were actually quite efficient , outperforming both their US privately owned counterparts and British manufacturing as a whole in terms of total factor productivity.

    For all its shortcomings, this remains today the most radical and far-reaching economic reform programme ever implemented in Britain. The Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major substantially reversed the earlier transformation of ownership. The commanding heights of the economy were delivered up for auction. Between and Britain racked up forty per cent of the total value of all assets privatised across the OECD , a massive transfer of wealth from public to private interests. In this way the serial privatisations of the Thatcher period helped secure the ascendancy of finance capital and the City.

    This lesson should be at the forefront of left thinking as part of any effort to bring about a systematic institutional obliteration of neoliberalism. The last several decades have seen the steady elevation of the interests of the City over the real economy, with significant consequences for the rest of us. Haute finance is also a source of tremendous instability and risk — the real proximate cause of the past decade of crisis and austerity.

    But replacing neoliberal capitalism does not mean a mere reversion to the past. It is clear that a Corbyn government would not simply resurrect the postwar model of public ownership — that of large, top-down, centralised public corporations run by mandarins. This dual emphasis on democratised ownership and radical political decentralisation is truly remarkable coming from the national leadership of a major political party.

    All around the world, parties of the left and centre left are adrift or in crisis and decline, unsure of their intellectual orientation. In some cases the left has split into rival camps, mired in mutual antipathy. The UK is a promising exception to this general malaise. The Corbyn Project thus merits support across the left, from people of diverse ideological backgrounds and persuasions, as quite simply the best available chance to advance economic solutions commensurate with the scale of our problems.