Jon Cruddas and Stella Creasey are reported by the Guardian this morning to be saying that:
The old model of politics where progress depended upon centralising the capacity to act – whether in the market or by top down state intervention – no longer works,
They appear to be echoing sentiment in the Guardian by left of centre think tanks that said Labour must embrace:
Devolution of state institutions, by giving away power and resources to our nations, regions, cities, localities and, where possible, directly to the people.
In my opinion both views are wrong. Bluntly, most people do not want power: politicians might want power (and why is often questionable) but ordinary people want to get on with their lives safe in the knowledge that other bits will work. And what is more, that is how things must be if we are to have an efficient economy. The efficiency of the division of labour demands it. So people don't want to run schools in their spare time; they want them to be run well. The same is true of most services.
More importantly, I do not think people want to hear from politicians who want to run way from responsibility. They want to hear how politicians will use the power they are entrusted with. And they definitely do not want to hear this from the left: they've had enough of the cowardly politicians of the right who seek power merely for private gain.
Instinctively I do not think people trust this decentralisation agenda. They are right not to do so. There are two reasons. The first is pragmatic. Like it or not decision making has to be near to the location of the power to tax. In the UK this is centralised, and is likely to remain so. Indeed, if a progressive and redistributive tax system is to be retained it has to be so.
Second, there is a distrust of localism. This may work for wealthy areas but the UK's regions would suffer as a result. The people of the UK want consistently high standards of services, not local control of variable poorer ones.
So, you can call me a statist centralist if you like (and I really don't care if that is what is required to deliver the services we need for the propsering society I think most people want) but I suggest Labour should steer very well clear of all such ideas, and the rather dangerous notions of diversity in services, with poorer standards for lower income area that they inevitably embrace.
It should, instead, I think, propose a Courageous State. I do, of course, unashamedly refer to my book of the same name, but for good reason. In that book I refereed to the concept of the cowardly politician. On the right these are the politicians who want power to enrich a few by transferring control of public services to the private sector. People have no desire to see this replicated on the left, although I am not in any way suggesting those on the left proposing localism gave the base motives of the cowardly politicians of the right.
However, like it or not, that localism will result in poorer services, unacceptable variation in supply, and poorer areas getting lower quality services than wealthier ones. And that's the last thing the left should be suggesting.
Labour does have to be bold. But it's big idea can't be having power to give it away. That's what all the neoliberal paties have to offer. If the left is to be relevant it has to take power to achieve the unambiguous goal of redistributing income and wealth in society to address povety; to provide the social safety net all in society need wherever they are; to provide the essential public services all require such ax dedication, health, transport, care services, las and order and more besides; and to direct the investment, nationwide, that will deliver sustainable growth.
That is what people want to hear from the left.
And they would vote for people who believe in such things.
They won't vote for people who want yo devolved power to local authorities.
Labour has to get the central narrative right, and the state is at he heart of it. There is no other option for the left.