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Rebecca Lowe was Parliamentary Candidate for the City of Durham at the 2015 General Election.

As maddening as it can be, Twitter is surely the best all-round news and comment outlet in terms of immediacy. Where did you go to keep up with the reshuffle? Or the Catalan referendum? Where do you check out views on the wider political world when you wake?

Its real-time nature also makes for unrivalled ‘historic present’ reporting, however — for when you want to escape to a time before you’d read Fire and Fury, or before Jeremy Corbyn colouring books ever existed. You know what I mean: those accounts that ‘live tweet’ past events, or to-the-date diary entries (@samuelpepys on 15 January: ‘All ended with a conviction that it was not fit for these Turkey ships to go out, though the ships be loaded’.)

Politically, Labour historians seem ahead of the game on this. A recent successor to the excellent @newdawn1997 account (which re-broadcast the run-up to Blair’s first election) is @haroldsrise. Run by Queen Mary’s Mile End Institute, it’s just begun tweeting the events following Hugh Gaitskell’s hospitalisation at the start of January 1963.

For something less teleological, however, @labour_history issues regular ‘on this day’ tweets. On Sunday, its tweet commemorated the 125th anniversary of the formation of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) — an organisation that predated, co-founded, and went on to exist within Labour. The tweet featured a picture of a poster that the ILP’s first chairman, Keir Hardie, used in his 1895 general election campaign. As it happened, Hardie lost the seat he’d previously held as an independent, and none of his 27 fellow ILP-ers were elected either, but it’s a nice poster — Hardie in the middle with his famous cloth cap, surrounded by ten worthy tenets:

 

 

But how worthy are those tenets, today? And, without the need to rake through Hardie’s manifesto and do a line-by-line comparison, are they still broadly central to any party? If so, which party? At first glance, there’s significant crossover between the benches on the continuing importance of some of these focuses. Some jump out as more relevant than ever, however, whereas some seem lost in the past…

Temperance Reform 

…I’d say this typified ‘lost in the past’, if I hadn’t spent over an hour attempting to evade complex shipping laws to get a couple of bottles of wine sent to a friend in Indiana in time for Christmas. Here in the UK, however, official ’temperance’ is now reduced to the kind of state paternalism that attempts to nudge us into ‘better’ behaviour through taxation — and that approach certainly isn’t just found on the left of the spectrum (though Corbyn wins a few Hardie points for being teetotal). Let’s hope that in 2018 the Conservative Party will help people to help themselves, rather than force-feeding them sugar taxes and the like. Oh, and that someone recognises the socio-economic prejudice of exercising excise duty on wine

Home Rule

Until recently, this term might have been seen as thing of the past, too. Now, with Irish border Brexit questions being driven in part by wider ideological dreams, with yesterday marking a year since the collapse of Northern Ireland’s devolved government, and with further Scottish and Welsh quandaries yet to come… not so much.

Work for the Unemployed 

Regardless of falls in the number of people in work over the past year, we all know that employment is at a record high, and that unemployment is at a steady record low. But what about the income stagnation of which we keep hearing? First, it’s important to note that incomes at the bottom of the earnings distribution are those that have mostly held up best since the recession (not that that tells us anything about exactly what those incomes are or were). But, more generally, it’s time we had a proper think about the individual and societal value of work — aside from basic necessity and gain. And its relation to welfare. And how income sits in the middle of all this. (And, in a wider sense, the causal relationship between the EU and viral youth unemployment in Europe….) It’s unlikely the Labour Party will lead the way, here.

Eight-Hour Day 

Then we come to flexibility. To address structural problems such as difficulties for women re-entering the workforce after having children, we must surely reconsider the tied stolidness of the average working day. Expensive commutes, and long days sitting at desks sending emails to colleagues across the room… Yes, some form of work-community spirit is indispensible, but, in this modern world, do we each need 9-to-5-by-5 of it, in person, every week?

No Monopoly

This has to be one of the most relevant tenets of all (not just for those who had enough of board games at Christmas). And this is particularly so for the Conservatives. Clarifying the difference between genuine free enterprise and the stodgy corporatism that we all too often get in its place is key to winning hearts and minds for a more truly liberal approach. Surely, the crony oligopolist is the archenemy of the true free-marketeer…

Fair Rents, Healthy Homes, No Landlordism

Let’s band these together, because — Hardie’s feudal-sounding language aside — housing must be the most pressing political issue of today: we all know that the party gaining traction here will triumph. (And an explanation of why old-fashioned rent controls don’t actually bring down rents should be added to the long list of arguments that need to be redeployed against back-to-the-seventies Labour: those forgotten arguments, relating to issues like nuclear proliferation and nationalised utilities, that the centre-right could once depend on voters already knowing.)

Justice to Labour 

‘Labour’ as in the party, or the workers? Does the former still stand for the latter? The arguments James Frayne has long been making on ConservativeHome for targeting the votes of the “provincial English lower middle class” remain strong in terms of electoral potential.

Democratic Government 

And here we end, by reflecting on what Keir Hardie might have thought about Labour’s move away from this tenet. The party’s current Brexit topsy-turvying is but a symptom of a bigger malaise, as neatly argued in this recent essay by Cambridge political economist, Helen Thompson. Thompson explains how Labour killed its tradition of championing democratic means in order to “dilut[e] the consequences of electoral loss” — that is, “for the sake of constraining the right and not to further any end of the left, Labour effectively treated the European Union as a de facto constitutional order replacing the British constitutional tradition based on parliament”. Pretty damning. Pretty clear. A commitment to democratic government remains pronounced within the Conservatives, however — although a more general antipathy (following disappointment over certain electoral results…) must continue to be countered. As I’ve written here before, once you vote away democracy, it’s somewhat hard to vote for it back.

They may be 120 years old, but a discussion of Hardie’s tenets doesn’t seem too anachronistic a place to start 2018.

11 comments for: Rebecca Lowe: Keir Hardie’s lessons for Conservatives (and others)

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