David Blunkett MP publishes In Defence of Politics Revisited
MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough and the former Home Secretary David Blunkett has today (Monday 17th September 2012) called for a wide-ranging overhaul of the political process to counter the growing trend towards anti politics, technocracy, and alarming levels of disengagement.
In a pamphlet endorsed by Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who has written the foreword, Blunkett has sought to intervene in the ongoing debate within the Labour Party as part of the Policy Review, and in the build up to this year’s Labour Party Conference.
In Defence of Politics Revisited concentrates on how the relationship between government, governed and the political process should be reformed in order to retain legitimacy. By revitalising our democracy, and concentrating on those concerns uppermost in the minds of the British people, it will be possible to reengage men and women as active citizens.
In the pamphlet, which commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the seminal work by Professor Sir Bernard Crick, In Defence of Politics, concrete suggestions are offered as to how people could be engaged in organising to take on vested interests, to campaign against unacceptable global forces, and to receive government backing in achieving substantial change in their own lives and communities.
In seeking to combine the power of men and women in their own lives with the resources available to government, the pamphlet identifies how it might be possible to provide a countervailing force to unfettered global markets whilst recognising that markets are here to stay. A bottom up rather than a top down approach would help to restore faith in the political process, whilst also finding some answers in a rapidly changing and often threatening world.
Alongside this, Blunkett outlines how, in a very different public service landscape, school governors and trustees could be empowered to provide new forms of accountability in the very varied and pluralistic framework that now exists.
Other forms of accountability and answerability would have to be developed for services as diverse as the health service with its new forms of commissioning procedures, and Police and Crime Commissioners with relationships between the community and law enforcement. In each case, the objective would be to mobilise people in their own immediate environment to ensure that either through co-delivery or reformed ways of delivering social enterprise, the concept of public service can be defended.
The thrust of the original In Defence of Politics sought to demonstrate:
A) Democracy cannot function without the engagement of people in the political process and trust in politics;
B) Politics itself is a messy business involving compromise as well as vision and values; and
C) Political engagement provides a counterweight to the financial and global markets and the power exercised over the lives of those without wealth and privilege.
Today, unregulated and unaccountable credit rating agencies continue to wield enormous power over governments, never mind the lives of individuals, making more important than ever the reassertion of democratic politics as a force for balancing global power.
David Blunkett said:
“The last five years of political and economic turmoil has resulted in politics and politicians losing still further trust and confidence by the people on whose behalf action is taken.”
“In the case of sovereign nations such as Greece and Italy, governments have been removed through external forces. The financial markets have, in effect, reasserted themselves following the banking crisis – at a time when elected politicians should have been demonstrating an effective counterweight to the failures of those very markets.”
“In addition, faith in democratic institutions, the media and broader political processes has fallen to dangerously low levels, as demonstrated in the 2012 Audit of Political Engagement by the Hansard Society. Their survey revealed the proportion of the public who say they are ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ interested in politics has dropped by 16% and now stands at 42%, falling below 50% for the first time since the audits began.”
“In the teeth of a crisis, the narrative should have been to explain why politics mattered and still matters, but this reassertion of democracy over global forces was missing from 2008 onwards, allowing a credible explanation to go unheeded.”
“In order to defend politics and therefore political democracy, we need to change the way in which we ‘do’ our politics. By placing the power of government behind innovative and mutual self-help and successful political campaigning, it would be possible to foster a new spirit of engagement with the political process.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband said:
“David Blunkett’s reconsideration of Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics is timely. Sadly, politics needs defending in this country. Few people believe it can really change the world around them. Few believe that politicians are much different from each other, and few vote. When politics becomes an increasingly minority activity, no politician or party can gain a good mandate to make the radical changes this country needs.”
The main recommendations include:
- Government prepared to use resources to assist people in taking on vested interests through sponsoring and supporting mutual action: assisting directly with campaigns to bring about the radical change in support of wider civil society objectives – such as the Make Poverty History campaign in the early part of this century.
One example cited recently is mutual action under The Big Switch, which saw almost 40,000 households negotiate a better deal in relation to domestic energy consumption.
- Government to directly back communities in the development of social capital: funding the expansion of community leadership programmes, the development and delivery of local neighbourhood budgeting and the direct running of local services by local people, including co-delivery and personal involvement in the provision of services.
- Revitalising accountability: in education and health, outsourced services as well as local and central government
- Innovative approaches to finance: pioneering alternative ways of tackling the gap between rich and poor – those with and those without assets – by sustaining long term action to combat inequality and unfairness, in other words a ‘fair chance’, as outlined by Ed Miliband earlier this year.
This should include lifelong accounts developed jointly between the individual and contributed to through government funding, and a reassertion of earned entitlement in relation to the welfare state. A return to mutual forms of saving and investment, including local and regional investment banks, must also be considered, as well as the use of pension funds with member involvement
- The development of microcredit (and affordable loans) to provide acceptable rates of interest to millions of people caught up through exploitative levels of APR, which would also be linked to bottom-up job creation: the task of linking rights and responsibilities would be enhanced by joining up with the Troubled Families programme to bring about lasting change and to break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage.
- Extending the concept of ‘predistribution’ by placing emphasis on lifelong learning as a means of ‘growing’ income, alongside skills, taking low-paid opportunities into sustainable long term improvement: combining public and private, talent and funding, as was the case with the Olympic and Paralympic games, government can be represented as ‘enabling’ rather than ‘constraining’.
- Refocusing politics on core issues to concentrate political action on what matters most to individuals and families: taking on the big issues of an ageing population and affordable retirement, and mobilising civil society through volunteering (including direct support to the million young people out of work and training). Indeed, for great exmaples of what young people can do, please see the projects at http://www.philiplawrenceawards.net/awards/2011-awards/
David Blunkett added:
“Twenty years on from the ignominious withdrawal from the Exchange Rate Mechanism, it is time once again to reassert political decision-taking over economic dogma. We must place faith in those individuals who have given up their sovereignty in order to combine through government to offer some influence on global forces over which no one family or individual can exercise any sway.”
“Credit rating agencies and the bond markets are phenomena which have changed the relationship between sovereign democratically elected governments and their own electorate, as well as between governments and global forces.”
“Facing up to the challenge of providing social care and handling the legacy of reshaped public services will by necessity require imagination and creative thinking, including reshaping the role of government in years to come.”
“Above all, thinking again as to how best to touch those who feel alienated not only from politics but from the process of public life and decision-taking. In other words, from the society in which they live and hopefully work.”