- oD 50.50
About Sunder Katwala
Sunder Katwala is director of British Future, the new think tank dedicated to issues of identity, immigration and fairness.
Articles by Sunder Katwala
This week's editor
En Liang Khong is a submissions editor at openDemocracy.
The Armenian genocide
Yemen - easy to get wrong
Through the bars
No to TTIP
Meteoric rise of Islamic State
The main biographer of George Orwell never became a global figure like his subject. But Bernard Crick, who has just died at the age of 79, was a strange influence on New Labour and like many political thinkers on the left around the world, he struggled with the fate of socialism and its relationship to democracy. Here, Sunder Katwala, the current General Secretary of the Labour Party's oldest and most distinguished pressure group, the Fabian Society, lays claims to Crick's legacy of sharp engagement combing intellectual overview with practical (or potentially practical) politics. And in a brief comment openDemocracy founder Anthony Barnett differs in his estimation.
Black and Asian candidates are making real progress up the British political ladder, argues Sunder Katwala.
Nobody can say when we might see a British Barack Obama. In many ways, Obama could be a once in a lifetime strike of political lightning.
But Obama’s election will throw the spotlight on progress on race in British politics. The question we can try to answer is this: how far do candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds still face higher hurdles because of their race?
The conventional wisdom on this subject is pretty gloomy. There are currently 15 non-white MPs: there would be 60 if the House of Commons was to reflect proportionately the ethnic mix of the country. So the fact of under-representation is clear.
Beyond that, most of the conventional wisdom turns out to be wrong.
Some may now hail the legacy of Enoch Powell's British nationalism, but his pessimistic vision was a recipe for greater strife, argues Sunder Katwala.
UKIP - the United Kingdom Independence Party - is led by Nigel Farage who has become the modernising voice within his Eurosceptic party. His party conference message in early September got little coverage. But he insisted that UKIP needed a more positive vision of Britain's 'sceptic future:
"I think we have got to change some of the things that we have been saying and some of the things that we have been doing. Because I think too often it's been easy to characterise UKIP as people who just knock and knock and knock and knock. We have not been offering good positive alternatives.
Now he has given an interview to the new British magazine Total Politics. It shows how uncomfortably his mission of shedding his party's image as an organisation of backward-looking naysayers sits oddly with Farage's nomination of Enoch Powell as his political hero.
The head of the British Fabian Society responds to David Miliband's recent article in the Guardian on the future of the Labour party.
A rather unconventional approach to David Miliband’s Guardian commentary would be to discuss the argument which he actually makes. Those of us who would like more open debate in our politics might at least try to attempt that. A public debate about the Labour party’s future direction, and how to forge an effective response to the Conservatives, could prove both more important, and rather healthier, than the fevered anonymous briefings about possible plots.
David Cameron and George Osborne have been joined at the hip in their faltering project to return the Conservatives to power. So George Osborne's decision to distance himself from Tory 'uber-modernisers' on the eve of the party conference will inevitably be viewed as an extraordinary and thinly veiled attack by the shadow chancellor on his own leader.
Still, Cameron and Osborne did want to be the Blair and Brown of their generation.
The Spectator's Fraser Nelson writes that "a phalanx of senior Tories are quietly preparing themselves for the ritual slaying of yet another leader" in Blackpool. But the party should pull together, seeking to project a confidence that it does not feel. As Iain Dale argues, there is an imperative to unite or die.
But this fear of public division means that the Conservative Party cannot, this week, hold the debate which it needs. Whistling a happy tune will not resolve the party's strategic dilemma. It is easy to see how to reunify an anxious Conservative Party but it is a prescription which points in the opposite direction to the one the party needs, if it is to reach out to the voters. 'Rebalancing' the modernising message with more emphasis on true-blue themes may play well internally, but risks simply reinforcing the 'flip-flop' image which seems to have stuck with the public.
David Cameron's core insight is spot on - that his party must come to terms with modern Britain in a modern 'global' world, if it is to contend seriously for power. His real problem is not the 'ubermodernising' agenda but that there are so few, if any, bright ubermodernisers at all apart from Zac Goldsmith. Where are the organised voices on the centre-right who are ahead of the party leadership, helping to create the intellectual and political space in which a modern centre-right agenda might be defined? A party can not be changed solely from the top.
Those Tory modernisers who use Philip Gould's book as a set text, accept his narcissistic description of New Labour being the creation of five people. This misses the battles fought by Labour's modernisers for over a decade before Blair. Neil Kinnock confronted the Militant tendency. Internally, John Smith (supported by Prescott) reformed the party voting system and externally he embraced constitutional reform and human rights. A new generation of women symbolised the cultural shift while the Party moved from being anti to be pro-Europe. Crucially, there was the intellectual rethinking of social justice by David Miliband and Patricia Hewitt at IPPR, consistent with the political strategy for tackling Labour's 'Southern Discomfort' as set out in Giles Radice's Fabian pamphlet series. The new leadership was then able to change gear on all fronts - replacing a "how much must we change if we want to win" mentality with a "breakout strategy" rewarded by the scale of Labour's two landslides. Blair's 'clause four' moment was a tactical masterstroke - but it was also the conclusion to the real work of change.
By contrast, Cameron had to start from scratch, and may face his moment of judgment after two years. The project has been too shallow with no defining idea, beyond electability, as to what the modernising project is or who it is for. There has been no clear argument as to what this would offer the country, or, beyond the Tory political class seeking a route back to power, no social group that can hear its concerns articulated by the modernising message.
The Tory think-tanks have struggled to contribute because the intellectual energy on the right remains devoted to the big idea of the last 30 years: less State. Cameron's electoral project points in the opposite direction.
Anthony Barnett, in the OurKingdom blog of openDemocracy can't find much evidence of new thinking on the left. Perhaps there is an echo here of Jimmy Porter (in Look Back in Anger, John Osborne's 1956 play): "There are no good, brave causes left".
In fact, the left has greater cause for confidence than for many years. It has struggled to find that confidence – after the deep psychological scars of the Margaret Thatcher years, followed during the Tony Blair ones by the divisions between a centre-left government and much liberal-left opinion over foreign policy and civil liberties. But we could be on the brink of a realigning moment. The centre-left has an opportunity to define a new centre-ground: one considerably different from that which it inherited. If we succeed in this, it will in turn set the terms of the inquest which Britain's right has still to seriously begin.