Central to Labour’s agenda under Corbyn has been the democratisation of the economy – a new economic model – for the many not the few. From putting workers on company boards, to nationalising key industries, to expanding cooperatives and mutuals as forms of worker organisation – Labour’s pledge to lead an irreversible shift in wealth and power in favour of working people can be clearly seen.
But if we want true and lasting economic equality, we must reform politics first and that ‘for the many not the few’ mantra needs to apply to policies beyond the economy – it must be applied to our constitution, our democracy and the very nature of the state itself.
We need a root and branch transformation for the archaic political structures and cultures that blight our politics across the country.
But too often constitutional and democratic questions can be overlooked. The historical basis of socialism is a project to socialise society’s wealth by building a coalition of working people to take on the concentrated power of ownership.
But to really succeed in opening up the economy Labour must first build a coalition to take on the concentrated power in our democracy – it is the distribution of this political power that really holds the key to Labour’s success.
Back in 1985, the journalist Neal Ascherson wrote that ‘it’s not possible to build democratic socialism by using the ancient institutions of the British state… It is not possible in the way that it is not possible to induce a vulture to give milk.’ And his words stand true today.
The truth is British constitution is not built to deliver a socialist transformation and doesn’t respond well to radical change. We can increasingly see today how easy it is to stretch our constitution to breaking point – how centralised it allows power to be and how even MPs are often left helpless when faced with a government forcing through unpopular policies.
But the problems in our constitution go beyond times of crisis from the unelected, unaccountable Lords, whose very existence locks in the power of 92 unelected aristocrats in making our laws, to our broken winner takes all voting system, which leans to single party govenments which often sees Labour enacting positive social change only for the next government to come along and reverse it as soon as they leave office.
That’s why Labour must put a radical transformation of the state at the centre of their programme, re-claim the cause of democratic reform as their own and make the case for radical reform to Westminster’s creaking establishment.
For too long, power in this country has been centred in the hands of a small ruling class. Even under previous Labour governments the call to give power back to the people has gone unheard or reforms stifled by establishment interests.
Now, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour must shift the balance of power today. The solutions to the problems we face as a society are rooted in a re-vamped democratic system – where people hear their voice is heard, where ideas can be tested and debated on a level playing field, and where our institutions – local and national – are responsive and accessible to the many and not just the few.
On the 31st August, I’ll be joining activists, campaigners and journalists like Paul Mason, Dawn Foster, Jon Trickett MP and Julie Ward MEP for a major conference to start to set out what a real democracy looks like.
‘This is What Democracy Looks Like’ – hosted by the Politics for the Many campaign will bring hundreds together to make the case that to deliver the kind of radical change we need Labour can no longer focus purely on the economics and rely on ‘administrative’ fixes to tweak our constitution around the edges.
Economic transformation will require political transformation. Labour cannot build a lasting socialism in a broken system.
It’s time to set out a vision for change and plan for a real democracy.
Shavanah Taj is the Vice President, Wales TUC and works with the Politics for the Many Campaign.
Tickets are selling fast – book today for ‘This is What Democracy Looks Like’ to guarantee your place. Book now: https://politicsforthemany.co.uk/event/this-is-what-democracy-looks-like/