A Fabian on the Streets of Sussex

Guest contributor and Vice-President of the Young Fabians, Paul Richards, discusses what Fabianism means to him and how it inspires him as he campaigns to be the Labour & Co-operative candidate for Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner.

Apart from the Labour Party, the Fabian Society is the political organisation that has given me the most, over the longest period of time. It is nearly 30 years since I was Secretary of the Young Fabians, but I try to live out Fabian values and apply the Fabian method every day. Therefore I welcome this opportunity to think a little bit harder than usual about what that actually means.

The Fabian Society is more than an ideas-factory. It is a vibrant membership organisation, united by a shared sense of values. From the publication of the Fabian Essays onwards, those values are anchored in a belief in the equal worth of all human beings, and a desire for a socio-economic system which allows every individual to fulfil their potential.  The Fabian method to achieve such a system is democratic, believing in consensual, constitutional change. We believe in contesting elections and exercising democratic power. And since 1900, our political tool has been the Labour Party, not any of the splits, sects and vanity projects that have come and gone down the decades.

That obviously means we reject so-called socialisms which promise (but never deliver) revolution, and forms of politics and organisations which seem to be more about striking a pose than making any kind of progress. In the original Fabian Essays Sidney Webb wrote:

‘No philosopher now looks for anything but the gradual evolution of the new order from the old, without breach of continuity or abrupt change of the entire social tissue at any point during the process. The new becomes the old, often before it is consciously recognised as new; and history shows us no example of the sudden substitution of Utopia and revolutionary romance.’

This is the famous ‘inevitability of gradualness’, a bit battered after the tumultuous events of the twentieth century, but still our guide.

Perhaps the greatest slander directed towards Fabianism is that we are ‘intellectual’, ‘elite’, or worst of all ‘middle class’. From the earliest days, Fabians threw themselves into democratic activity and political campaigning, engaging in the strikes and revolts of the socialist revival of the 1880s and 1890s. They had their heads cracked by police batons. They stood for school boards and council seats. Sidney Webb served on the London County Council for 18 years.  Fabians stand for office and fight elections whenever and wherever we can.

In that spirit, I am standing as the Labour & Co-operative candidate for Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner in the elections on 6 May. Tackling crime and antisocial behaviour is a perfect example of the need for Fabian evidence-based policymaking, focussed on positive outcomes for real people. Labour could try to out-flank the Tories on ‘law and order’ with calls for harsher sentences, more prisons, more tasers, more military-style policing. But this would be an absolute abnegation of our values. 

We can never outflank Tory populism, nor would we want to, and nor should we try. But we can outmanoeuvre them, as Gaby Hinsliff rightly points out, on the prevention of crime, support for victims and witnesses, investment in public services and facilities for young people. New Labour showed that we don’t have to cede the ground to the Tories on crime and policing, if we are tough on crime as well its causes. Keir Starmer and Nick Thomas-Symonds are applying that lesson to our own times.

These are the persistent, perennial Fabian questions – what’s the evidence, what works, what brings the greatest benefit to the most people? The Tories cut police, closed police stations and magistrates courts, shut down youth services, starved local authorities, and of course crime rates soared. You don’t need a PhD in criminology to see why. And you just need a degree of common sense to know that investment in neighbourhood policing, sports clubs, park rangers, and youth clubs pays off down the line.

So I take inspiration from the Fabians – young and old – as I campaign across Sussex. And when it looks a bit bleak, and my feet are sore, I am reminded of the thoroughly disreputable Hubert Bland’s words at the end of Fabian Essays:

‘It is just when the storm winds blow and the clouds loom and the horizon it at its blackest that the ideal of the Socialist shines with divinest radiance…’.


Paul Richards is the Labour and Co-operative candidate for Sussex police and crime commissioner. He is a lifelong member of the Fabian Society, and was Fabian chair. He tweets @labourpaul. 

If you'd like to help Young Fabian candidates to win local office on 6 May, you can sign up for our phone banks on 27 April here, and 28 April here.

You can also hear more from Paul at his free online YF Academy political writing session with our Antics Editor Amber and our Blog Editor Emma, on 26 May here.

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