Our mission is simple: to discuss and debate the future of socialism.
The Social Review is an inclusive platform which creates a space for grassroots centre-left voices. Our site is fiercely independent and takes no editorial positions. We are not beholden to any faction or splinter group, nor are we seeking to become one. On the contrary, The Social Review recognises the contributions that can be made by the Labour Party’s many traditions, whilst also acknowledging their weaknesses. Good-faith engagement within Labour is more essential than ever. The post-crash era is characterised by radical uncertainty: climate change, automation, the diminished public realm and Brexit present unique challenges which social democracy has so far struggled to answer.
Following the crises of the Great Depression and the Second World War, Clement Attlee’s great 1945 Labour government set about implementing what would eventually form the basis of the post-war Keynesian settlement. In the 1970s, this consensus cracked. A decade of discontent led to a nation seeking alternative answers. Thatcher responded by radically reshaping the structure of both British society and the economy. The Thatcherite approach led to the neoliberal consensus which has so far persisted to the present day. However, the 2008 financial crisis should be recognised as an equivalent breaking point to those of the past. It is striking to note that the establishment of both the post-war and neoliberal settlements occurred around ten years after the previous consensus had broken down. But, a decade on, the new economic settlement for our times has not yet arrived.
Social democracy’s historic strength has been its ability to adapt to new realities. New Labour worked, in its time, as a way of reconciling left-wing aims with Thatcherism and the post-Cold War reality. But the 2008 crash obliterated the foundation of common prosperity on which it was built. Wages had stagnated in some areas in the years leading up to the recession; in the decade since, this has become the norm across the country. Fifteen years ago, a majority of those in their 30s owned their own homes. Now, the majority of those under 40 rent privately. The UK has suffered a productivity crisis since the crash, with its output figures slowing more significantly than those of any other major Western economy. New Labour prided itself as an electoral project which sought to reach government, and decried the ineffectiveness of parliamentary opposition as a way of sharing the proceeds of growth and improving people’s lives. The 2015 Labour leadership election saw Blair turn his back on that idea, saying that even if an “old-fashioned” left-wing platform was the route to victory, he wouldn’t take it. This inflexibility represented both the abandonment of the electoral focus and pragmatism which had been at the heart of New Labour, and the final nail in the coffin for the post-Thatcherite consensus.
We believe that the ideas of New Labour are no longer suited to our times. Its final years saw a collapse in imagination; damaging concessions were made on public services and immigration. Yet the centre-left found itself with nothing else to say. Corbynism must be understood in this context. We should now recognise that a space has opened up in which a new vision for a socialist government can be developed – one that learns from the mistakes of yesterday, responds to the issues of today, and offers realistic hope of a better tomorrow.
So far, the centre-left has failed to capitalise on this opportunity. As we see it, the problem is twofold. Social democracy appears to lack both a coherent short-term strategy and an imaginative alternative vision. To reflect this, our website is split into two sections: Realities and Possibilities. Realities covers short-term strategy. It will be populated with pieces that respond to existing policy as it is proposed and implemented, comment on internal issues within the Labour Party’s structures, and offer ideas for left-wing political strategy in the here and now. Possibilities has a wider focus. It is about reasserting social democracy as the most practical and visionary solution for addressing the problems facing us in the 21st century. What does the society we would like to build look like? What are our medium- and long-term policy goals? What can we learn from history? How can we deal with the challenges of the future?
There are ideas out there. The Social Review exists to prove that. Social democrats in the 21st Century must be brave enough to embrace these ideas. For too long, the centre-left has been defined in opposition to more successful political forces and movements. It is anti-Brexit, it is anti-Tory, it is anti-Corbyn. This is a timid, negative position. It is passive and it is dull. An inability to articulate a positive vision for a progressive future is the crux of the centre-left’s current malaise and the ailment we seek to remedy.
Social democracy is in crisis across the world. But the fundamental promise of a proactive state, which works through a stable, democratic government to deliver liberty, equality and prosperity, is still a powerful idea. It is The Social Review’s contention that this is the only model that can deliver the just, equal and progressive country we wish to see.