The Dilemma for Labour: Authenticity or Electability?

22/05/2015 11:50 BST | Updated 21/05/2016 10:59 BST

Now the shock result of the general election is dissipating, the identity crisis for the losing parties is settling in.

Most of the analysis focuses on Labour - 'Where did they go wrong?' being the question asked and answered with exhaustive alacrity, if sadly little insight.

Labour's predicament can be described as the choice between the opposing advice of figures like Len McClusky and Tony Blair. McClusky urges Labour to recover its reputation as a beacon for social democracy: the 'voice for working people'. Blair urges a more centrist, business-friendly approach hinging on economic competitiveness. So which is it to be?

Many on the Left seem to believe social democracy can somehow be reconciled with a business-friendly approach. But is this really possible?

In his post-election analysis, The Guardian's Larry Elliott points out that:

"Social democracy requires abundance. Governments need a growing economy and rising tax revenues... [to] build schools and hospitals, make pensions more generous and tackle poverty. This was the case in the third quarter of the 20th century, when growth was strong and governments had more levers to pull. They could limit the movement of people, [...] limit the movement of money. And they had trade barriers to protect their own industries." But as he goes on to say, "Borders are more porous in the age of globalisation. It is easier to move people, money and production around, but harder to protect jobs, wages and tax revenues [...] growth is slower in developed economies than in the 1950s and 1960s [...] There is no longer the same sense of abundance and governments have fewer levers to pull."

"Fewer levers" is where Left-wing thinking grinds to a halt, ignoring the painful reality that social democracy is now effectively impossible under conditions of footloose capital and corporations. Admitting that "governments have fewer levers" is, however, not the same as going the final, vital step to admitting that those diminishing levers are now insufficient and can never be made sufficient. The reality is that social democracy is not compatible with staying internationally competitive. To make itself electable, Labour - like all other Left-of-Centre parties - has to become (or continue to be?) deeply inauthentic: only cosmetically on the side of social democracy but in all other respects deeply business-friendly. As I've pointed out previously, global markets do not permit anything else.

Globalisation isn't just a problem for the Left, as Right-wing parties like UKIP would find if they ever got near power. Note how business now cows voters into staying in the EU by threatening to move elsewhere. This threat limits and defines the narrow parameters of permissible politics, ensuring that only those policies are delivered that keep a country 'internationally competitive'. The question of which party delivers them is immaterial. This isn't a party-political identity crisis - it's a crisis of democracy itself. For what we have now is not democracy, but pseudo-democracy: have any party you like, but the policies delivered conform to narrow market demands.

The hollowing out of democracy can only worsen while the analysis fails to name and shame it. As I've said before, democracy - let alone social democracy - cannot be restored at the national level. Since capital is global, solutions must be global too. To believe otherwise would be like believing that a switch by Britain to driving on the right could somehow be accomplished by making the change in London first, but not in Reading or elsewhere. M4 drivers, beware!

What, then, is to be done? In the run up to the election I lead the UK branch of a global campaign allowing citizens around the world to use their votes in a new way designed not only to take democracy back, but to implement the kind of reforms needed to make social democracy and environmental sustainability a global reality. We succeeded in getting over 600 candidates from across the political spectrum to sign on. Of those, 29 are now MPs, all of whom are committed to implementing the campaign's global objectives alongside other governments. The campaign is also making encouraging headway in other countries and can, in the UK at least, now claim to be the voice for global solutions at Westminster.

While commentators from both Right and Left continue to encourage the false belief that social democracy is still possible in the national context, the public's confusion and its disaffection with politics can only worsen. Meanwhile, I'll be working with our MPs to deepen parliament's and citizens' understanding of the need for global solutions. We'll let you know how we get on.