The Power Gap
by Dan Leighton
Power is the political currency of the day. All three party leaders now extol the importance of “giving power away”, devolving power and empowering people. As Cabinet Office Minister Liam Byrne recently put it: “the debate about power and how we create a country of ‘powerful people’ is the real question in modern politics”. David Cameron has pledged a “massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power", whilst Nick Clegg has written that "liberalism’s starting point is the fairer dispersal and distribution of power". Yet how do these welcome objectives relate to the power people have in their everyday lives: at home, at work and in the community?
League tables of the ‘Most Powerful’ feature regularly in the media: the most powerful people in politics; the most powerful gay people, or Asian women, or in business. There is, it seems, an almost insatiable interest in the power elite. But questions of power and powerlessness are not restricted to the gilded few. Powerlessness disfigures our nation and weakens our society.
The animating ideal of Demos' power video is that all people should have power over their own lives, and the power to shape the society in which they live. In today's society power is formally vested in the people, rather than the church or state, but this tells us little about inequalities of power within the people. As a new Demos map of power- The Power Gap, to be released on Monday- shows, power is unevenly distributed in today’s Britain. The map, which assigns power scores to every constituency in England, Scotland and Wales, shows the country is divided between those with the financial, educational and political resources to exercise power, and those without. There is a good deal of attention paid to gaps in income, wealth, opportunity and health. Put together, these amount to a gap in power. The power index on which the map is based brings indicators in these areas together to show there are in Britain not one, but ‘two nations’: the powerful and powerless.
Demos' power map shows where the most powerful and powerless citizens live; what factors make them score higher; disparities across and within regions; and which political parties represent the powerless and powerful. The results raise questions about the role of education, work place democracy and electoral reform in improving people's power situation.
Demos' mission is to discover and communicate ideas to give people more power over their own lives and their own environments and to close the power gap. At a time when all parties pledge to “give power away”, this power gap should frame policy across the board. It is easy to talk about devolving or redistributing power. The challenge now, for the whole political class, is to do it.