Labour seem to have failed to enthuse its supporters. Polly Toynbee says we might - yet again - have to hold our noses when we vote Labour, and Sunny complains about the party's "lack of clarity...on multiple levels".
In one sense, this is inevitable. There are countless constraints upon any leftist party - not least of which is a lack of public support for socialism. This poses the question: how can we tell whether Labour is doing the best it can, within these constraints? In this context, Erik Olin Wright makes a brilliant point. We should, he says, distinguish between ameliorative reforms and real utopian transformations.
Real utopian transformations consist of innovations which are building blocks towards a socialist society, whereas ameliorative reforms - whilst desirable in themselves - might be just dead ends.
For example, the new public management described by Chris Cook was an ameliorative reform. It might have improved school quality temporarily. But insofar as it leads to gaming the system and to hierarchical managerialism, it is a dead end.
Similarly, increasing spending on public services is merely ameliorative. Even those of us opposed to austerity know that the share of government spending in GDP can't rise forever.
On the other hand, policies which might not otherwise have much to commend themselves might be building blocks. A few tweaks to universal credit or to Labour's Jobs Guarantee scheme could lead to a genuine basic income and to real full employment.
For me, this distinction gives us a way of testing Labour. A good Labour government would put in place building blocks - policies which might seem innocuous but which could be expanded later.
Take, for example, Jonathan Portes' point that the next government has a choice: "We can have either higher taxes, more private provision, or much worse services." Now, private provision might merely be a way of cutting wages and staffing levels. But it needn't be. If preferred bidding status were given to worker or consumer coops, privatization and outsourcing might be a building block towards socialistic structures. So too might tax breaks for cooperative firms.
I'd apply this test to all Labour policies: are they dead ends or building blocks (or worse still policies that risk a backlash)?
We are not going to get a liberal socialist society merely by electing the right government: the Independent's otherwise fascinating "If I were Prime Minster" series misrepresents the nature of politics. But it is possible to gradually - perhaps even imperceptibly shift towards one. We've got ourselves a plutocratic managerialist society without consciously choosing one. Maybe we can get ourselves a socialist one the same way.