In the spirit of true bi-partisan co-operation, I want to quote both Tony Benn and Ann Widdecombe this morning.
Tony Benn reminds us here that the greatest challenge lefties face is our own and others pessimism that real change can ever come. Widdy calls it the theory of "The Shrug."
Oh, "The Shrug." You find the shrug on most doorsteps at election time. You find it when talking to friends or family, you slam right into it every time you try to run a local campaign or form an action group. The shrug says "Who cares?" "They're all the same" "It doesn't matter to me, they don't do anything for me" "Nothing will ever change."
You can't debate with the shruggers, you can't persuade them to your point of view and you can't just list facts because they don't believe them. They are beyond politics, disenfranchised and contemptuous.
2010 was the most extreme "Shruggers Election" I'd ever taken part in. Young people shrugged, low income families shrugged, ex-Labour supporters shrugged, Tories unconvinced by Cameron shrugged and the "Shruggers" very nearly made up a majority.
Labour has a massive debate in its future. Not shilly-shallying around the edges of policy, not a short term squint at what went wrong in the last few years of a tired government, but a fundamental debate that asks what it is for? What does it want to do and why?
We became so terrified of that debate in the early 90s - for good reason - that we put it on ice indefinitely. We needed to prove that we could unite and run a competent government. We pulled together and from Union radical to maroon-champagne-socialists, we formed a cohesive force in UK politics.
Today, at a time when the entire global credit infrastructure has faltered, when free market ideology has stumbled, when we face a stark black and white choice between more of the same, or a bit of innovative thought, fearing that debate might deny Labour of the chance to be an enormous force for good.
The debate has changed, it's centre of gravity has lurched wildly off course and where it would have been suicide to consider a more mutual or co-operative or socially democratic form of society in 1995, is it really suicide to at least discuss it now? Is the world not screaming out for a way to combat terrible social division? Is it not searching wildly for a way of making finance and banking more sustainable, less arrogant and most importantly, less toxicly dangerous?
I was a fully signed up, card carrying Blairite. He was exactly what Labour and the country needed in 1997, but Lehman's hadn't folded then. Nor had Northern Rock or AIG. The "centre ground" began to look very much like the "status quo" and continuing to jostle to occupy it increasingly makes our politicians looks like drowning men clinging to a sinking ship.
In fact the centre ground is exactly where the winning political party needs to be - but the debate we need to have is about where it is today. Was it centrist to cling blindly to free market orthodoxy that meant the rich got spectacularly richer while the poor floundered? Was it centrist to fete a business class that invested in finance bubbles rather than long term investment and infrastructure? Was it centrist to ignore terrible housing shortages and damaged subcultures and overpopulated, hopeless estates?
Labour has its greatest opportunity to be relevant and socially democratic. There will never be a better time to put forward radically progressive solutions to some very, very broken systems. There are literally millions of non-voters out there waiting for them to do just that and all the answers can already be found in Labour's core values. Discussing them doesn't mean abandoning all the progress we made during the 90s ad 00s, it means realising that the teens and 20s will be an era all of their own. If even Blair wishes he'd been more radical, then surely we must have the courage of our convictions now and dare to frame them in a way that inspires a new generation.
I'm convinced that there is an enormous body of people out there just waiting for Labour to inspire them again - to really inspire them. To stand up and say "There's a better way than this, we can do better than this." A lot of the country need persuading that Labour still stands for anything at all - not just its core voters, but that very "squeezed middle" and "alarm clock Britain" that want to aspire but are no longer sure who they're slogging to prop up.
Blair spoke for them, but he couldn't speak for them today, that's ridiculous. We need to dare to represent the country again, and the country are crying out for an alternative to cynical corruption and an insatiable economic monster that chews them up and spits them out. Just saying that didn't produce any "Militant Goblins" honest.
Wherever the centre ground is today, it certainly isn't sitting underneath Mr Cameron or Mr Osborne. Labour need to remember that "centre" doesn't mean "right-wing" any more than trying to redefine it makes you a communist. If our politicians adopt the "shrug" too, they will never achieve anything great or lasting again. You can't build the NHS on shrugs or revolutionise the status quo - if you believe that, then you've just given up.
UPDATE : Today, no less than Warren Buffet calls for higher inheritance tax to tackle "entrenched plutocracy" If even Mr Buffet is accepting things need to change, then Labour will not shoot back to 1984 by doing the same.