One Nation Labour the Coalition and Vocational Education and Training

James Avis post by JAMES AVIS
University of Huddersfield

Many of the policy proposals of One Nation Labour echo those of the Coalition, in terms of vocational education and training there are also continuities between the Coalition and the policy proposals of One Nation Labour. Here I point to a number of significant similarities. Clearly policies will be marked by differing nuances but there are a number of overlapping themes. The need to re-balance the economy and to reinvigorate the ‘productive’ economy has resulted in a call to reform vocational qualifications allied to the need to enhance their standing – in this instance Wolf’s 2011 report has been important. One of the ways in which vocational qualifications can acquire increased status is if they have been endorsed or accredited by employers or have been developed in partnership with local employers. In these cases the qualifications should have greater purchase in the labour market and in this way address Wolf’s concern that a number of so called vocational qualifications have no purchase in the labour market and are effectively of no value. These policy developments draw on the rhetoric of ‘parity of esteem’ between the vocational and the academic, seeking to overcome the low status attributed to the former. The attempt to enhance the value of vocational qualifications is reflected in number of other policy concerns such as the need to reform, develop and enhance apprenticeships as well as calls for the development of a technical baccalaureate. These initiatives sit with a far greater emphasis being placed upon Maths and English thereby aiming to enhance the rigour of vocational qualifications. The point is that across the political divide there are common elements that call for the reform of vocational education and training and that putatively seeks to enhance its standing.

It is as well to recall Hall’s description of the Labour Party, “as the second party of capital” and would suggest that the best we can do is to work on the ‘good side’ of Labour’s policies, and that this would require an exploration of the limits and possibilities surrounding these.

In some respects One Nation Labour could be seen as attempting to refashion social democracy to fit austere times and as with New Labour before it, is attempting to validate a ‘softer’ form of capitalism. In the case of the former there is a concern to manage expectations, to think smart and to devolve power whereby greater responsibility, and by default blame, can be placed on the community. Its call for a social economy is set within a terrain in which this is thought to facilitate a more effective form of capitalism. However, it is inevitably constrained by this orientation which itself is limited by the wider global socio-economic context in which the economy is set. This raises questions about the ability of the British economy to generate high skilled and waged employment, to ensure moves towards full employment and to reinstate the ‘British promise’ of raising living standards. All of this is deeply problematic within the context of a social democratic politics that remains wedded to capitalism and is tied to a conceptualisation of the good life that is linked to productivism. That is to say, the notion that it is necessary to engage in waged labour in order to live a fulfilled life. Perhaps we should engage in a ‘revolutionary reformism’ whereby we seek to push the policies of One Nation Labour as far as we can in progressive directions which are committed to the tenets of social justice and anti-capitalism.