New, Blue, Big or Good – it’s all about communities.
If politics is the art of the possible then the current plethora of debate within the Labour Party is clearly healthy. What is possible? Whether our analysis is Blue Labour or a reborn New Labour, plain ‘Labour’ or even Good Capitalism we have to be somewhere else from the wilderness we fell into last year whilst staying true to our traditions.
Looking outwards and involving all community players is the answer.
New Labour (to which I was fully signed up) was supposed to reposition the party away from the producer interest and recognise that we are all consumers, both of services and of goods. It was about getting the balance right between the state and the market; moving away from a religious conviction that the state was the only power for good in society and breaking down the belief that market forces were the forces of evil.
A third dimension – the community – was missing from that analysis; elements of the Big Society idea go some way to correcting that omission.
By accepting that there is a limit to what the state can achieve – and that what is driven from the centre risks failing to engage with those on the fringe – Blue Labour is not harking back but looking forward. It speaks the language of flexibility, of personalisation of services, of every local community doing its best, something that cannot be imposed sustainably from above.
Labour must be the party of doing things with people and not to them. Every activist who sees his voice as more important than his ear should remember that. In government we came a long way – witness the work of v in promoting youth volunteering, funding for local control of community assets, the unfinished business that was Total Place and the potential for community involvement that some Local Economic Partnerships were promising to develop. And look again at how these ‘Big Society friendly’ measures were all chopped off at the knees by the incoming coalition by the withdrawal of funds.
Through local organisations and the wider voluntary sector we see activists setting the priorities for the communities they represent; new Cabinet Office figures suggest that one in three voluntary organisations and charities is now providing services compared to just one in five only three years ago – and good for them, I say.
But to return to the New Labour dimension: let us look again at the players in the place we call the market. The private sector. The producers of wealth, of jobs, of enterprise. We should be working with these powers – helping put to good use their £146 billion of uninvested after tax assets – not against them.
It’s about citizenship: individual, collective and corporate. The corporate citizen, the private sector entity which recognises its duty as a community player and exercises power responsibly and accountably, has much to offer – especially when working to a common agenda with the public and the third sectors. That corporate citizenship mentality, Will Hutton’s Good Capitalism, is the missing link: distinct from the rapacious greed of bad capitalism it can be a uniting force, a conscientious force, an effective force for good.
If we ignore it we will not generate the solutions that our economy, communities and people need.