Saturday, July 24, 2010

Big Society: An opportunity for Labour?

This post by Anthony Painter on Labour List is easily the best commentary I've seen on how Labour should respond to the Tories' Big Society programme, insofar as it is a programme at all at the moment:
"[Labour] ...needs to be listened to again. That means a bit more honesty about where the party went wrong both in the context of the nodding dog leadership debate and the party more widely. It wasn’t just incumbency taking its toll or the unpopularity of the leader. It was also the fact that Labour was seen to have spent too much, too wastefully and had become a meddling, interfering government and a not particularly successful one at that. Acknowledging shortcomings is the first step to being heard."
and
"Labour needs to develop a way of talking about politics that is metaphorical, empathetic and tangible. The Tories play on simple themes such as the household budget as metaphor for the national budget. Well, most people would take out a loan for a car that enabled them to get to their job and enjoy their leisure time more or a mortgage to buy a home. That’s an investment and governments must invest also for a return. The left must do metaphor better.....

....Labour should not be afraid of articulating the importance of responsibility - for us all. Where it critiques the coalition, it must be on the basis of impact on people not policy detail.... Labour will only be listened to if its solutions are credible. It must articulate why the services and investments are important for all of us as individuals, for our communities and the nation. It must be clear how it would cut expenditure - or increase taxes - over what time and by what amount to make the bigger arguments. This is part of being heard again.

Labour must not look gift horses the mouth. Where the coalition is playing to an empathetic framing as it has on criminal justice and the Big Society - in thematics at any rate - don’t blindly oppose. Civic involvement is good for nurturing an empathetic mindset so encourage the Big Society and pledge to expand it and improve it. The easy option is to mock it. But what could be more compatible with an empathetic mindset than people becoming active in their local communities? Don’t forget, we are talking fundamental ways of thinking here: weaken the empathy then leave space for a conservative ideology to tighten its grip and that will have an impact across the whole of range of issues." (My emphasis)
Labour has a number of problems and opportunities arising out of the current situation. The Big Society programme highlights one further serious failing of the last Labour government: That it was captured by a managerial bureaucratic caste that was rigid and wasteful - one that refused to foster or acknowledge the existence of a public service ethos preferring outsourcing, inspection, bean-counting and permanent managerial upheaval. One that had only one measurer of value: Auditors.

There are no end of problems that the Tories will have with the implementation of this concept, not least it's near-addiction to Walter Mitty-type schemes promoted by mythical entrepreneurs and it's faith-based conviction that private sector investment will step in to replace the state spending that they are withdrawing (it really won't, and it's totally baffling to hear anyone claim otherwise).

There is a more sustainable Christian Socialist approach (one that you don't need to be a Christian to value, I'd add) that has prior claims to a lot of the Big Society ideas - but we (and presumably, the Lib Dems) can see where these ideas are simply a shill for privatisation and a Thatcherite buying-off of taxpayer lobbies.

We can also take some inspiration from this coalition government. We spent thirteen years governing as though we had a one-seat majority. It was ludicrously defensive and cautious. This lot haven't even won an election and they're already acting as though they have a 200 seat majority. There is an élan to this government that we never had - and I suspect that this is because they've resolved to take the FDA on and defeat them in a way that Labour never dared to (and should have done).

The Big Society idea - as it is articulated - is one that Labour needs to embrace. It has the potential to wean us off some of our more unattractive associations and help us to address the problems created by a politics that confuses individualism with liberty and democracy.

So, you might say, 'be nice to the Lib-Dems and embrace the whole Big Society idea - hardly the work of a defiant leftie?'

Maybe I'm getting old?

3 comments:

CharlieMcMenamin said...

Er - do you mean this sort of thing?

It's still ambiguous, though. Ask the 285 people made redundant from LB Lambeth Education department this summer.

melekler korusun final said...

thank you

Harry Barnes said...

All five candidates for the Labour Leadership have now responded positively to the campaign run by Dronfield Blather to issue “Manifestos of Intent”. On Friday Ed Balls was approached at the close of the final hustings which was held at Manchester and he accepted the proposal. This means that all five candidates have now agreed. But there are still problems to be resolved before our wish becomes reality.

On 16 August balloting commences. So we are keen to gain access to the finalised Manifestos for publication by then. So far we hold some initial material from two of the candidates, although if they wish they still have time to elaborate on what we hold.

Whenever all five Manifestos are available we will publish them alongside each other. If anyone falls out of the boat we will, however, publish what we then hold on 16 August. We can’t wait any longer than that.

Candidates are, of course, free to publish their own Manifestos at any time they wish. If they beat us to it, we will nevertheless stick to the above timetable.

We will also give credit where it is due to three Labour MPs who have to date helped.