Principles before policies: Building a shared progressive agenda

Policies are difficult and too often bogged down in the complexities of implementation. Policies are important – of course they are – but where do they really come from, and what are they for? 

It is our principles that we should be secure about, and above all, that we should always reference when comparing ourselves to our political ‘enemies.’

It is principles that should be underpinning policies; we need to hold our principles and fundamental values dear and recognise that they are the key source of a shared identity. When it comes to ‘identity,’ those of us on the ‘progressive left’ of politics in this country need to find better ways to realise and respect the reality of our common deeply held beliefs. We need to beware the tribal fragmentation that has deprived us of our effectiveness; it is a separation that the media on the Tory right continually try and manipulate. It is as if they know that our egos can be assuaged if they pedal artificial labels which they can then make us defend. As a result we seek them to defend our silos – when what we really need is to ignore whatever minor differences there may be and strive instead to uphold our common identity, one with a foundation built on common humanity. 

As a member of the Progressive Left I believe in a society that is fundamentally based on principles of community and egalitarianism – not individualism – and that the greater share of national wealth should be held in common and gains equally shared. We on the Left can be clear about such basic principles; they underpin our beliefs and should be consistent in terms of our best efforts to give life to our principles in practice. 

The Right have a value system that is based on nationalism, traditionalism, capitalism and individualism. The Right believes all humans to be driven by self interest making a cooperative society impossible – as Thatcher said, “there is no such thing as society”. Their assumption that humans are selfish has normalised their self seeking behaviour. 

Progressives now need to foster a future built on their values and principles before becoming trapped by the Tory media’s self-interested defenestration of our policies. An example of the way in which we need to get ‘back to basics’ is the way that policy decisions are being shaped and extrapolated through economic theory and not justified by principle. Economic practice then seeks to change the values of those it has been specifically constructed to control. 

Our collective ability to address today’s challenges is undermined by cowardice in the face of our values; we need to bolster progressive principles for ourselves, in our communities, so that they can be shared with others and provide the sustenance necessary, the energy required, to turn principles into practical policies. It will be our shared principles that then provide the foundation for effective policies in action. 

Community: Solidarity based on social change that allows everyone to have freedom not the arrogant and popular support for individualism.


Individualism. Populism.


Internationalism: We all share in a common humanity. Egalitarian principles extend beyond our shores.


Nationalism. Isolationism.


Multiculturalism: Openness to recognising and celebrating other cultures, ideas and ways of managing one’s life. 


Mono-culturalism/ ‘Conservatism.” 


Parity/Equality: Equal citizens can practice freedom without infringing the freedom of others and equal people can’t exercise unreasonable power over others.


Hierarchy/Privilege. Selection. Birthright.


Cooperation & Subsidiarity. Social democracy sees the purpose of a real welfare society as being to alter the distribution of resources created by crude market forces – towards community ownership.


Laissez- faire/survival of the fittest. Competition.


Progress: Valuing the future – human worth and the planet’s worth has to be constantly defended.


Traditionalism. Status quo.


Self-interested value positions on the Right can only lead to income inequality and structures where the consequently less privileged have to fight for the dwindling pieces of ‘pie’ available to them. Where society is based on ‘progressive’ values it is transparently oriented toward a role for communities. 

We should never accept that anyone is excluded from society. Making sure that any differences between people are reasonable makes it more likely that society can hold together. Conditions for an equal start in life depend on the real opportunities that people are given. It is a basic principled precondition on the Left that there should be equality in social conditions and a fair distribution of economic production. We should start by celebrating the groundwork of our principles. Once we do this, it becomes clear how our policies can serve to make these positions real for us all. 

Decent homes for all.


Rent control, enforcement of sustainable building standards. Social housing/community owned.


Public services that work for everyone – not for profit & short term return to a few share holders.


Common ownership of services essential to human welfare.


A sustainable planet for us all – that starts with sustainable communities: Freedom to join others and make differences together. Ecological sustainability which generates solidarity with future generations and with all peoples.


Ongoing investment in a green industrial revolution. Ownership of localised political assemblies that need to be empowered to take decisions on what is for the common good.


Real living wages which addresses poverty head on. Working conditions which promote freedom and the security needed to manage one’s own life.


Universal basic income. Real Living Wage. TU rights.


Lifelong learning opportunities. 


Places for learning owned and accessible by their local communities and funded for services which operate holistically and collaboratively.


Opportunities for all to acquire and maintain the best health possible.


Properly funded and resourced NHS with good early intervention services.


Security – An individual’s freedom to manage the pattern of her or his life is important. Protection


Opportunities to exercise one’s freedom means ‘well being’ comes first and includes the freedom to express opinions, ideas, and to feel secure in so doing.


Truth: Dictatorships are built on the monopolisation of information.


Ensuring accountability and transparency of all media.


Democracy: the right to be heard and have a meaningful vote.


PR, Subsidiarity. Citizens Assemblies.


Right to choose – irrespective of gender, religion, ethnicity.


Protected in legislation.


Justice: The principle of social justice is needed to justify the belief that there is a ‘humanity’ – and that we must look on other individuals as belonging to this collectivity, towards which we then have moral duties.


Those who have high incomes should be included in society by paying for more of its collected benefits . Therefore ‘fair’ taxation. Distributive justice.


It is the arguments about principles and values that must be intensified so that the best policies can be prioritised for the next generation and for the future. 

The hierarchical tyranny, oppression and fundamental injustices represented by those who hold to the legacies of the Right, (and they will use their power to contend the arguments used) need to be not so much put to bed as extinguished by the massed mobilisation of voices for principles… for humanity, community, equality, justice and the future. 

Surely it is time now for the Labour Party as well as the Liberal Democrats, Green, other Progressive parties, and their supporters, to align ourselves with a set of principles (as per the left side column)? If there are real policies that reflect these principles but that appear to pull progressive parties apart, then I suggest these policies either are not truly representative of ‘our’ principles or are trivial. For the sake of us all now, and for generations to come, it is time for an alliance based on our shared principles and values – we can then, as Compass proclaims, “Win As One”. 

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