Labour’s Triumphant #neweconomics

Yesterday, the Labour Party held a conference that put some serious theoretical grounding for the ideas that drove the enthusiasm for the party’s manifesto of last year. It started with production of a report commissioned by John McDonnell into “Alternative Models of Ownership”, which uses studies from round the world (including here in Britain) into how genuinely innovative alternatives to both the private sector and the old model of centralised nationalisation can make our society better. The link is here.

The scope of the event was very broad, and included:

  • Combining and democratising different forms of ownership, including municipalisation and co-operatism.
  • Looking at how privatised services are, right now, being in-sourced throughout the world in an almost “silent revolution” in services that is happening on all continents and across the Global North/South divide.
  • How modern technology affects work, removing some jobs but actually creating others, and how the role of organised labour is essential to directing automation and AI in a progressive and ethical way.
  • How the knowledge and data-based economy has become severely monopolistic and how democratic structures, like radical municipal authorities in Barcelona (or even our very own Transport for London) can resist this and form a data commons and digital sovereignty that works for people not a tiny number of massive multinational businesses.
  • How participatory authorities, many of which have formed as a result of an unlikely alliance between grassroots campaigners and tech experts frustrated by the problems with neoliberalism, have been assembled and work in practice.
  • Putting forward our positive vision of how technology and industry could be like. The legacy of Mike Cooley and the Lucas aerospace workers was a really important touchstone for this.

The conference opened with big names, culminating in a closing speech by Jeremy Corbyn, but the contributions and questions from the floor were also really good and Jeremy actually referenced this in his summing up. But the most exciting thing about it was something raised by veteran campaigner Hilary Wainwright, who said that for the first time, we have a socialist vision that is built not around putting all our faith into massive scale nationalisation run by the state, but by the participation of ordinary working people, and that the closest we’d ever really got to this before was not 1945 (which, in any case, we all know cannot go back to) but to the brief experiment in which Tony Benn tried to collaborate with the Lucas workers back in 1977. Our socialism will not be top-down: it will be decentralised democratic public ownership.