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  Global Economic Viewpoint



Anthony Giddens' new book, "Over to You, Mr. Brown: How Labour can Win Again," has just been published by Polity Press. Giddens, a former director of the London School of Economics, was a key adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair on "third way" policies.

By Anthony Giddens

LONDON — Now that Prime Minister Tony Blair has publicly announced his retirement and the British Labour Party leadership will in all likelihood be handed over to Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown in June, what should Brown do to maximize the chances of Labour achieving a fourth term?

New ideas are essential if Labour is effectively to counter the Conservative challenge and, even more important, rekindle enthusiasm amongst the electorate. To have a chance of a fourth term, Labour has to reinvent itself almost as thoroughly as happened in 1997.

I propose that Labour should develop what I call a “Contract With the Future.” Of course, one can’t literally sign a contract with the future, because the future (a) doesn’t yet exist and (b) isn’t an agent. What I mean by the phrase is that Labour should offer a contract to citizens to initiate a future for the country, and as far as possible the wider world, that is socially just, as well as economically and ecologically sustainable — where we do not, in effect, exploit our children.

A Contract with the Future, as I would see it, must involve a number of key points. Labour should at this juncture more openly rejoin the social democratic tradition. It has thus far kept its egalitarianism mostly under wraps. Why? There is no need to be coy about the need to reduce inequality. Britain is too unequal a society to compete effectively in the world marketplace. I advocate a “new egalitarianism,” which is the very condition of longer-term economic growth. Policy innovation, not tax rises, should drive this program.

Major changes will have to be made in the structure of taxation to thread a concern with green issues through the whole of government fiscal policy. Brown must become Green — and, of course, he has just delivered a major speech on the subject. There should be no increase, however, in overall taxation levels. The “no” to tax rises will have to be a big “no,” since the Tories will paint Brown as a tax-and-spend traditionalist.

Blairite policies in health and education should be radicalized and generalized rather than rolled back. The welfare state has been largely a middle-class monopoly. We must empower poorer groups by giving them real voice and choice. Decentralization and devolution — not themes that Brown has been conspicuously associated with in the past — should be the order of the day. Cities and regions need effective leadership in a world where global changes often impact upon them directly, rather than at the national level.

We are living through a period of the end of the welfare state, and further welfare reform is imperative. I do not mean this in the right-wing sense that welfare systems are a brake on growth. The opposite is true. The welfare state has to become a social investment state, much more than only a safety net. For instance, investment in skills is vital both for tackling poverty and for economic competitiveness. We need a more preventative and activist welfare system than in the past.

Labour should put an arm lock on the new and very extensive “well-being” agenda. Mental illness seems on the rise; it is responsible for more workdays lost than unemployment. Most chronic illnesses today are lifestyle-related. Coping with them demands lifestyle change — the adoption of healthier everyday habits. Lifestyle change is also the key to dealing with global warming.

Brown should adopt a more positive attitude toward the European Union than he has taken so far. Many of the most significant problems we face as a society today can only be effectively dealt with in the context of the EU — climate change, energy security, transnational crime, migration, worries about the Middle East and other issues. A new generation of European leaders is emerging, and Brown should seize the chance to be one of them.

Foreign policy, above all the tragedy in Iraq, has done more than anything else to undermine Labour’s credibility. Brown must oversee the process of pulling the troops out of the country, a process, of course, that has already started. He has to put a distance between Britain and the current U.S. administration without sacrificing Atlanticism altogether. Even more important, he has to think through the implications of living in a world where the influence of, and respect for, American power has shrunk.

I don’t mean to underestimate the problems a Brown-led government will confront. One can see several areas of tension and difficulty. Although there will probably be some sort of leadership contest, Brown will come in as an un-elected prime minister. Over 70 percent of voters in the UK think that he should speedily call a general election. There is virtually no chance that he will do so, but such a situation could drain his legitimacy.

There could be problems maintaining order within the party. Brown will have to face down the old left, and deal with potentially fractious trade unions, just as Blair did. If Brown concedes too much to the traditionalists, he could perhaps keep the party happy, but his tenure as prime minister will be short.

We don’t know how capable a leader Brown will be in dealing with such issues, but he might turn out a very good one. In my view, the Tories have made a serious mistake in deciding to depend upon spin rather than concrete policymaking in making their appeal to the public.

In his first year as prime minister, Brown should develop and put into a practice a policy-rich agenda, in effect squeezing the Conservatives out once they formulate their own policies (if indeed they are able to do so). The next election might well be a close-run thing, but Labour can win again, have no doubt of it.