Monday, December 29, 2008

The confidence needed for collective action

Healey: Not ideologically neutral.
While trying to keep my head down over the Xmas period, a few posts have been brought to my attention by Dominic:

1: Why doesn't government have reservists?
2. Would social entrepreneurs make better politicians than politicians do?

I think that the answer to both questions, sadly, is in the negative. The reservist question rests on a few implicit assumptions that I'd challenge. That....

a) the public sector would be better if it could only mine the skills of the private sector
b) it is possible and desirable for professionals to move between these two sectors.

I've argued here that both of these arguments are mistaken. And I've argued here that the left needs to get it's finger out and start answering the big questions about what collective action could look like. And even the Labour Party is starting to define itself (in opposition to its rivals) as the party that believes in collective action. As John Healey says (in the PDF behind that last link):
"We believe in an active state. This doesn’t mean the state can and should do everything, or even most things, but we are not ideologically neutral on the role of the public sector. The present problems underline the need for active government and responsive public services to protect the poorest, correct flaws in the market and secure the proper role and contribution required from the private sector in our society."
In the constipated crabwise reversion to Labour's traditional position, this is a great leap forward. Nearly a decade after the promise of traditional values in a modern setting, Healey is setting it out. As Matthew Taylor says, it's all up for grabs at the moment. These are exciting times.

On the question of social entrepreneurs, this is a term that I would suggest has become so hollowed out as to be meaningless these days. It's just been a last resort for politicians who wish that the public sector would just go away. It's a response to the experience of what happens when public services are privatised to PLCs who make their margin from wriggling out of their contracts while ticking as many boxes as they need to.

It's an investment in an idea that, somewhere, in a capitalism that is dominated by monopolies, that there is a wellspring of experience in non-monopoly situtations that can be drawn upon. The successful social small business is as rare as rocking-horse shit, and that will still be the case in twenty years time.

Time to bark up a different tree. There's that old one, over there - the one called Social Democracy.... ? Turns out it was more fruitful than all of the other ones all along....

2 comments:

James Hamilton said...

"It's all up for grabs.." Yes. I've thought for years now that it wasn't a case of people falling out of love with politics and politicians, or of politicians all becoming alike. It was a case of there being no particularly desperate problems for politics to involve itself with. Now there are, and everything's waking up. I wonder what the next General Election turnout will be? Evens says north of 70%.

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