Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Liz Kendall’s radical idea

We have been told that Jeremy Corbyn represents a radical new leader for the Labour party, that he is a ‘curator of the future‘. I disagree with that view. I do not think that Corbyn’s brand of top-down socialism and reheated Bennism is new or radical, and I do not believe that it will lead Labour to victory in 2020. There is, however, a radical in the leadership election, someone who is truly articulating the new ideas that the Labour party needs if it is to refashion itself for the modern world – that person is Liz Kendall.

Kendall has placed one especially radical idea at the heart of her campaign – giving power away. In her speech ‘Of the people, for the people, by the people‘ she powerfully laid out the case for devolving power ‘to the nations, cities, towns, and counties of Britain’. She returned to this theme in her speech on ‘Realising our values in the 21st century‘, beginning with a paean to the roots of the party in ‘workplaces, town squares and churches the length and breadth of this island’.

This is the tradition that Corbyn ignores with his focus on the old-fashioned tools of the state, his relentless demand for party democracy rather than genuine empowerment of ordinary people. Kendall understands that in an age of globalisation power feels increasingly distant from people’s lives, and that all too often the representatives of the government seem as brutal and faceless of those of multinational corporations. To truly win back support for social democracy we have to restore to people the sense that government is an active and real part of their lives rather than an imposition from above.

It is this feeling of alienation that fuels dissatisfaction with the ‘Westminster elite’ and the EU, that drives the rise of the United Kingdom Independence party and the Scottish National party, that Corbyn is now channelling but lacks a coherent response to. That is not to say that all that the left has achieved before now should be swept away; indeed, in an age of vast multinational corporations it is more critical than ever to use the institutions of the state and power of the EU to defend the interests of workers and the vulnerable. We face, however, a breakdown of people’s trust in these bodies, and as such our challenge is to rebuild a sense of connection not just with our goals but with the means by which those goals are achieved.

This also responds to Tristram Hunt‘s call for Labour to confront the world of identity politics. For this is one of the greatest problems that social democracy currently faces; the rise of national and local identity that is replacing the class politics that are the origins of most leftwing parties across Europe. Devolution is not just about connecting people to power but giving real content to their identities. A frustrated nationalism, a thwarted identity, is a dangerous political force, but an engaged community is an unparallelled means of personal actualisation and collective action.

Kendall’s focus on devolution is therefore radical on two levels. First, it restores to people a sense of real power over their own communities, a connection to the government and the tools of social democracy. This creates the space for real grassroots reform of public institutions, for creating more responsive services that provide a genuine voice to those they serve. As importantly, devolution can channel people’s growing sense of local and national identity into a progressive direction. It confronts the threat to social democracy of identity politics and places Labour on the side of local action rather than against it. It fuses the New Labour desire for modernisation of the state with the blue Labour goal of community engagement. Ultimately it can even mark out a new path for Labour’s campaigning, focusing the party on links with local action and community activism.

This is the truly radical idea in the leadership campaign and Kendall is the real progressive that the Labour party needs. It is her vision that we must place at the heart of the Labour party if we are to win back power and implement real change.


Nicolas Turner is a member of Progress

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Nicolas Turner

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  • I think it is necessary to recognise that a ‘People’s Quantitative Easing’ and a National Investment Bank will pass some of the control of bank lending back to democratically elected governments (rather than the bank’s electronic printing of money for inflating housing prices and other assets). No matter how good are the words and intentions of ‘passing power back to the people’ there will be none if there is no resources to develop and deliver (and of course all of us, except banks and traders of course, must be ‘economically credible’). The will be no genuine passing back power without some impetus to productive investment in regional industries and infrastructure. Enforcing further austerity (and thereby increasing the proportion of debts to growth) can offer no transfers away from the central finance centres of the country. The ‘handbag economists’ of the Labour elites and other Neo – liberals ensures power is locked into finance markets and ‘Europe’s UKIPPers’ (i.e the EU. It is no workers liberation movement or power decentraliser and will get increasingly vicious as the Neo – economic financial variability crumbles.

    Sorry power is not transferred by saying it is a good idea, after all haven’t the Tories talked of this form of economic responsibility from Thatcher’s days onwards. Transfer of power also requires transfer of productive investment controls. There is nothing radical here, it is just traditional small scale liberalism for the localities.

  • “People’s Quantitative Easing” is made-up nonsense inspired by a world long gone, before capital moved globally with ease. Made-up nonsense, like the £120BN in unpaid taxes that was going to be collected – it took one blog post by a Labour-supporting tax expert to get that instantly trimmed to £20BN (which, a further blog post revealed, was still in la-la-land). Corbynmania is the internet version of ill-informed mob sentiment.

    What we need is a vision that might be dubbed “Radical Liberalism,” in the sense Weber espoused, embracing both a wariness of big institutions, whether corporations or state bureacracies; and an emphasis on empowering individual agency or capacity, ie. practically widening, as far as possible, the kind of personal freedom (including its material preconditions) to which everyone aspires.

  • I’m somewhat undecided on the QE option as it will of course depend on the economic situation at the time but to dismiss it out of hand as an anachronism from another era when £375 bn has already been created is a comment that is hard to take seriously.

    Your second paragraph didn’t really mean a lot to me, could you explain what you meant by ‘the personal freedom to which everyone aspires’?

  • A principal reason we eg. enjoy the interest rates we do is due to the independence of the Bank of England eg. to manage the money supply in the light of economic rather than political considerations. If you set up a body to lend money on non-economic grounds (ie. back things that can’t raise money independently), and have the Bank of England back these loans, you have re-politicized it. This will inform the decisions of lenders who don’t trust politicians to be prudent. Quite easy to take seriously, if you’re serious.

    It is deeply concerning you can make little of my second paragraph, and in particular the phrase you quote. The gist is clearly that we should seek to empower individuals to do what they want to do (“personal freedom”), rather than having plans for them. Perhaps you could explain your difficulties further?

  • Hah yeah I understand what the words personal freedom mean, it’s your actual proposal behind it that I’m interested in. Without specifics it just sounds like the kind of asinine phrase a politician would use when they don’t want to commit to an actual policy but want to say something that sounds positive. Theres no politician of almost any stripe that wouldnt want to claim they were pro personal freedom but it doesn’t really mean a lot in and of itself.

    As for QE, as I said yes I would have some reservations but it can certainly be done for economic reasons (if growth continues to stagnate and we remain in a deflationary environment) but for positive political purposes (infrastructure investment) without a significant negative impact.

  • Hah any old ass can use words like “asinine”: those who do *tend* to be supercilious people who misuse it as a synonym for “banal” – and enjoy opportunities for rhetorical grandiosity more than they do actually gaining power and changing peoples’ lives.

    Re. “specifics”: first, it’s not a bad idea to have a governing philosophy in the light of which you can judge specific policies – brand values to be embodied in your retail offer (perhaps my vocabulary will annoy you; please try not to complain). Second, it is always good strategy to present what you want to do in terms that people agree with. Thus: everyone wants freedom; but *we* give it to the many not the few. Third, I’m not a politician, and the very difficult task of calculating how far we can go and still take the public with us is not mine. Of course, in this sense Corbyn is not a politician either. But I think politicians, in this sense, are vital and that it is intellectually lazy and callow to engage in facile denigration of their role.

    Personally, I would eg. double Jobseeker’s Allowance, which is at an absurd level, especially for single people. Eventually, I would like to see a Universal Basic Income. But signing up to ideas like this is *easy*; it’s barely *political* at all. I think a lot of the policies of the last Labour governments, which the Tories are undoing, would count – all kinds of things which don’t get so much attention, from ready access to legal aid to rights to a hearing at an Employment Tribunal.

    Liz Kendall’s policies are readily available – eg. opposing attacks on Working Tax Credits, proposing worker representation on company boards and, in her responses to Jon Cruddas on Labour List today, recognizing the new needs thrown up by new paterns of employment: “For example, there are now more people who are self employed than on the minimum wage and by the end of this Parliament the self-employed are set to outnumber public sector workers. Labour must set out how we will ensure this growing group of workers get the support they need to build a better life for themselves and their families in areas like maternity and paternity leave, sickness pay, training and pensions.”

    A realistic prospectus for achievable change, or a lot of hot air that sounds cool to Guardianistas and gifts the country to the Tories…….

  • Devolution to communities is not a new idea…it is only dressed up local government and will lead to post code lotteries as well as people feeling driven to leave their communities of origin…a mini migration crisis in fact. I personally would rather Liz addressed the major one…but perhaps that’s too hard and may offend business!

    How about Peter Mandelson addressing this too. If the Labour party cannot achieve the policies it believes in, it should cease to exist. The policies are more important for the membership…and the implementation of these. Nobody, actually, wants to be a member of a party of protest and it is insulting to many of us to assume that we do.
    Incidentally, I don’ think anyone wants Liz to give her life to the party…it will distort her judgement. Now Gordon Brown..not of course a Lord… is another matter!!

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