21st Century Gramscian politics
A progressive hegemonic project
Residual Conservative political hegemony
If there's a single lesson from a study of the Conservatives and the Right Bloc it is the fundamental importance for the Labour and the wider Left more generally to develop a progressive hegemonic political project. By this, I am referring to the ability to create a broad social and political alliance around a progressive vision of the future and to use this, not only to win democratic elections, but also to begin to transition society away from neoliberal capitalism and towards a socialised, green and democratic future.
What has been abundantly clear in recent years has been the ability of the Tories to frame a national political narrative that reflects the English nature of their political project. Despite its narrowness, this has proved sufficient to win successive elections with a 40 per cent electoral bloc.
Following a disastrous period of austerity, the Conservatives still managed to frame the dominant story with a powerful narrative around Brexit, a sovereign country and the potential for prosperity outside the EU. This tapped into not only the nostalgia of legacies of Empire, but also the legitimate discontents of social groups left behind by the very neoliberalism that had been promoted only a few years earlier by Cameron and Obsorne. Johnson's shapeshifting was an act of political genius. While it is clear that the Right project contains many contradictions, it appears to have withstood internal inconsistencies for a sustained period - one of the hallmarks of a successful political hegemonic project.
The Left, on the other hand, has constantly struggled to develop an effective progressive counter-hegemony. The roots of this historical deficiency are complex. They can be accounted for, in large part, by the cultural and political shortcomings of Labourism (timid social democracy) and, more recently, a failed ultra-left experiment in the form of Corbynism. Both have, in their different ways, been top-down and tribal. Unfortunately and tragically, Starmerism continues this baleful tradition with a 'Labour First' sectarianism. All these Labourist traditions have yet to understand that the basis of building a progressive hegemony is to treat political life as a respectful educative and relational project in order to 'tell a plausible story' of a progressive future within our grasp. At the same time, Labour has to seek friends rather than constantly identifying enemies. Alliance-based politics are the only real guarantee of a sustainable social majority for change in the English context.
This section of this website contains publications focusing on democratic left politics in the UK and, in particular, the building of an effective progressive political and social bloc that moves beyond the acquiescence of Labourism and the sectarian politics of the far left and now chauvinist Labour right. This involves not only policies, but also the development of new practices and relationships in 'civil society'. This section also includes a neo-Gramscian theoretical approach that has been applied to the political party of the 21st Century, alliance-building and creating new socio-political settlements.
The Very Modern Prince’: the 21st-century political party and the political formation
- Ken Spours, 2016
'The Very Modern Prince' is a 21st-century interpretation of Gramsci's famous work on the role of the political party - The Modern Prince. The paper argues that to build a new hegemony the progressive 21st Century political party has to become a 45-degree blend of a collectively disciplined party (vertical) and as an open political formation (horizontal). This 'combinational' vision of the 21st-century progressive political party prioritises its educative, intellectual and connective roles and also functions as a critique of both the traditional political party (electorally bound) and more recent ideas of the political party as a pure digital network.
Common Platforms. A new stage of alliance-based and participatory politics
- Ken Spours, Frances Foley & Nick Mahony, 2021
This thinkpiece discusses ‘Common Platforms’ as a new stage of a progressive, collaborative and participatory politics. This multi-dimensional concept of alliance-building extends the strategy of the ‘Progressive Alliance’, which found expression as an anti-Tory electoral pact in the 2017 General Election. The concept of Common Platforms can also be seen as developing the different layers of what Gramsci referred to as the 'historical bloc'.
The Ship and the Sea. The Framework for a New Settlement
- Ken Spours & Neal Lawson. 2023
This recent thinkpiece argues that Labour and the wider Left need to develop a strategy and vision for an political, economy and ecology settlement that looks beyond winning elections. People need to be inspired by the prospect of progressive change that can happen soon without having to wait a lifetime. The paper suggests that the timespan for a new settlement should not be tightly linked to the parliamentary cycle and that a period of 10 years is realistic. The metaphor - Ship and the Sea - describes a strategy that not only focuses on the enactment of policy (the Ship), but also attempts to change the wider cultural and material context (the energies of the Sea). It is the combination of both that can provide for a stable progressive settlement.