The contours of political debate are shifting. The big divide now is not between left and right. Jonathan Freedland, reporting on an exchange between Jon Cruddas MP and Demos Chair Phil Collins, gets it right - pointing to "a new alignment, with the centralisers, both left and right, on one side and the dispersers of power, both left and right, on the other."

In a columm for Prospect I argued along similar lines, that "On the one side stand those for whom the economic crisis demonstrates the need for a more muscular state; on the other, a diverse group who want to use the state to give more power to individuals."

Of course this divide is not new. GDH Cole, as Collins points out, distinguished between the 'federalisers' who want to spread power and the 'centralisers' who want to hoard it to the state. In his 1958 book The New Liberal Democracy, liberal leader Jo Grimond separated the 'liberals' and 'authoritarians' in both parties.

Grimond hoped that the Labour party would split, allowing the radical liberals to be reunited with the liberal party. It didn't work out like that, of course. Grimond ended up being attracted to early Thatcherism as the best bet for smashing the paternalist institutions of the state - but that didn't work out either.

There are politicians who think power should rest with people, and those who think it should reside with institutions. Here's a test: can you imagine a party containing Jon Cruddas, James Purnell and Michael Gove? I can.

Bruce Smith

There seems to me to be far too much idealism surrounding Localism and Distributivism as vehicles for decentralising power. Laudable those these philosophies are no matter how much co-ownership and co-determination you have there will still be the bids to "capture" the central state. That is the nature of private capitalism. Thomas Geoghegan, an American lawyer, has suggested the current financial crisis arose because of a Supreme Court ruling in 1978 that effectively removed the cap on the level of interest financial institutions could charge on their loans. See this web site for the full story :- effect of this decision he argues was to skew investment into the financial industries and out of manufacturing because of the higher rate of return. The UK was affected in a similar fashion. I would go on to argue that the cap was not put back in place during the last thirty years because of the belief in the "Natural Economy" promulgated amongst others by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. This belief was that government should be kept out of economic decision making as far as possible. Clearly if Geoghegan is right then only central government could have effectively reimposed the lending cap to stop the feeding frenzy. The message to the "Federalisers" and "Centralisers", therefore, has to be that when it comes to distribution of power it's "horses for courses."

New Comment