In Labour's retro leadership election, only Liz Kendall has thought seriously about giving power back to the peopleby Anthony Painter / July 29, 2015 / Leave a comment
There is a Labour leadership election so Leviathan is stirring. There is something faintly depressing about the fact that the biggest ideas to come out of the race this week are a “National Education Service” and a “National Care and Health Service.”
The “NES” comes from Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign. This would be a big national lifelong learning bureaucracy. It would provide everything from pre-school education to adult night-classes—it would be a clunking monster. As for Andy Burnham’s monster, it basically nationalises social care. Rather than simply finding some new way to provide funding to individuals to purchase care or councils and others (including the private sector that Burnham so abhors in the NHS) to provide it, a big bureaucracy would be established. It’s not altogether clear to what question about public services “much more bureaucracy” is the answer.
Last week, there was a powerful attempt by Liz Kendall to question the way power flows and the role of a future state. Her approach was precisely the opposite to that of Burnham and Corbyn. She questioned how to re-balance power in favour of people and away from big bureaucracies and called for “a new political settlement which devolves power to the nations, cities, towns and counties of Britain. It means radical reform of our institutions so people have a say and a stake in how they are run. It means supporting people, as individuals and in their families and in their communities, to have control over the resources and services that shape their lives.”
So far, in Labour’s retro leadership election, Corbyn and Burnham are the back to the future candidates. Yvette Cooper is happy to avoid big ideas altogether in an attempt to be all things to all people, and has ended up as nothing in particular to anyone in the process. Kendall is the only one to seriously address society’s ebbs and flows. The world as it is largely passed this leadership contest by. At the same time, the nature of power in British society is changing—through a mix of values, civic energy, technology and political design.
The power structures of the 20th century, reliant on hierarchical, technocratic methods, are weakening—albeit unevenly. New forms of collective power, some reminiscent of pre-welfare state social action, are emerging. But unlike the…