Friday, 4 March 2011

Progressive London conference

Sinéad Pentony: Progressive London is a broad alliance for progressive policies, and they hosted their annual conference on 19th February, bringing together leading figures from the British Labour party, local government, the trade union movement, civil society organisations, academics and many others to discuss building the widest possible alliance against the British Government’s policy of cuts to public spending and services in London and beyond, and to show that there is an alternative. Sound familiar? They were keen to know what lies in store for them should their government continue on its current path and one of the parallel sessions focussed on ‘lessons of the Irish economy’; other speakers included PE bloggers Michael Burke and Michael Taft.

I was particularly interested in the analysis being put forward by those opposing the cuts in the UK, and the active campaign that has emerged in response to government policy that has put itself on the path of reducing the deficit at all costs – jobs, growth and equality...

While there are certainly differences between Ireland and the UK – such as the scale of the fiscal and economic crisis; a banking crisis and monetary policy - there are interesting comparisons that can be drawn between the responses of progressives on both sides.

Progressives in the UK have put forward a clear analysis of why they reject the assumptions underpinning the government’s policy (the main assumption being that cutting spending is the best way of cutting the deficit), and of how the cuts will make Britain more unequal. Intellectual support for this position is being provided by a long list of experts ranging from Nobel Prize Winners in Economics (Stiglitz, Krugman and Pissarides) to Financial Times columnists. This analysis is the driving force behind a growing campaign that is resisting the cuts and highlighting the tangible impacts of cuts to public spending and services across the UK.

Political leadership is being provided by various actors, and the trade union movement is mobilising its constituency. Presentations at the Progressive London conference put forward the view that the current government’s fiscal policy is a ‘choice’ which is ideologically motivated, and that the real agenda is a dismantling of the welfare state, privatisation and deregulation.

The economic analysis of the current situation in the UK is underpinned by a strong class analysis, which is being borne out when the impact of the cuts is being felt most by low paid workers, women and migrant communities. This analysis has not emerged to any great degree during our own home grown crisis, but may yet do so depending on the policies pursued by the next Government.

1 comment:

Paul Hunt said...

Read-across from Britain to Ireland or from Ireland to Britain should be considered carefully. Like Caesar's Gaul, the current British government's overall policy stance has three parts. First there is a laudable, but probably futile, attempt to re-define the boundaries of the state and the role of central government. The second is an instinctive desire (generating some 'red meat' for disgruntled Tory backbenchers) to complete the Thatcherite agenda. And the final part is the never-ending (and probably equally futile) search for a viable and sutainable global role for Britain in the absence of Empire.

All three pull in different directions and the conflicts that arise when an attempt is made to progress on more that one front means that Britain will likely be condemned to domestic insecurity, economic under-performance and external impotence.

Ironically, I think Ireland is in a much better place with regard to future prosperity and well-being. Following some typical, and inevitable, EU-level fudge on the EZ bank problems, some serious structural economic reforms and some meaningful reform of democratic governacne, Ireland will be set fair to pick up from where it left the rails 9 years ago.

Labour in the UK, after 18 years in the wilderness, realised what was needed to secure the support of the liberal centre for a progressive agenda, but lost it gradually from 2003. It hasn't worked out how to do that again, and could be lost again for a long time. Labour in Ireland never saw the need to secure the support of the liberal centre and now the combined forces of the right and the liberal centre will bend it to their will. Holding 20 seats at the next election would be a good outcome.