-CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY-
Let me begin tonight by saying, without any qualification, that I and all my colleagues are in no doubt about the truly awful election results of last week. Voters are beyond unhappy, they are angry and if we fail to recognise and respond to that anger we will deserve everything that they throw at us.
However, I believe that the worst thing we could do now is give up, betraying the people who elected us and leave the scene with the recession still raging and our political crisis unresolved. The brave, moral and above all the right thing to do is to face that anger, continue the fight against the recession and offer a genuine and profound change in the style and substance of our politics.
But Labour must first acknowledge the public mood, be honest about our mistakes, and assert our confidence in our core values. Then our job is to address the terminal failure of the old politics and prove that we can offer real change in how people influence the world around them. And we must show that Labour can lead the way out of recession to a stronger, fairer society.
I remain optimistic about the future of progressive politics in this country but we must react with energy and ideas. A fearful retreat into inertia would condemn Labour to being seen as a conservative party, the defenders of the status quo. Our goals must always be higher than that: whether that status quo is an indefensible, secretive system of parliamentary allowances, or public services which fail to keep pace with people’s rising aspirations.
So our first task is to end the closed, exclusive politics that so offend people. As Tony Blair said, left and right still matter but increasingly ‘the divide is between open and closed’. In our open society information flows ever more freely, the barriers to association dissolve by the day, and identity is ours to choose. Contrast that with our closed politics where power, debate, information and decision-making are hoarded at the centre, and where the urge to control is ever-present.
Last week voters told us that they will no longer tolerate our political closed shop.
Barack Obama’s election showed that when an open society and an open politics combine, new and unexpected doors will open for progressive politics. It is that opportunity – to build an open politics – that I want Labour to seize.
Fittingly, it was this government move towards greater openness through the historic Freedom of Information laws that exposed the horrific excess of a political system that had been allowed to police itself behind closed doors for too long – and against which voters recoiled last week.
That it is why it is so vital that a commitment to greater openness – including an extension of freedom of information - is made central to the much needed clean up of our politics that we are now taking forward.
An open politics means that power rests with people and not institutions. That means our political parties should be open to those who share our values but do not wish to join; companies should be open to the involvement of their employees; and public services should be owned by the people through a new conception of public ownership. That is the very essence of progressive Labourism.
The open politics is thus one that lets people in: to our nation’s political conversation; to our political parties; and to the way we govern. It is an open politics for an open society. But it is crucial to see this new and open politics not as a destination but a constant process. Just as the constitutional reforms of New Labour’s early years are now part of the established landscape, the new politics of this year will become the old politics of next.
Every political instinct – to hand down the tablets from on high, to reduce risk by retaining control – bridles at openness.
But open politics is one based on optimism, rooted in confidence in the ability of individuals to bring about change; belief that the real solutions to problems we face are found in the communities most affected; and faith in our capacity as a society for self-government.
It’s easy to talk about openness, but the test is in bringing it about. First, both politicians and citizens must find new ways to talk about the choices our society must take. That means abandoning both the politics of false choices and the politics of no choices.
In our early years, New Labour rightly focused on overcoming a series of pernicious polarisations – between employer and employee, social progress and economic progress, public sector and private sector – that were deeply damaging not just to our image politically, but also to our ability to govern with competence.
But our success at overcoming these polarisations came at a price. Though we made it seem as if there were few hard choices, that decisions did not involve tensions and dilemmas, winners or losers, all of us know that life is not like this.
We know the tensions and dilemmas – at home, in the workplace, and in the communities in which we live – that are thrown up by the myriad of choices that we each have to make every day.
Now it’s time, not just for politicians but all of us as citizens, to acknowledge that politics is like this too: traditional economic growth comes at an environmental cost; that if the rich grow richer that carries implications for the overall levels of inequality; that one person’s local democracy is another’s post-code lottery.
‘Power to the people’ is an easy slogan, but citizenship requires more from us than simply making our demands to politicians and then expecting them to go away and resolve the conflicting interests and viewpoints in a manner wholly to our liking.
An open political discourse requires us to discard the politics of false choices. People don’t believe that one party has all the answers, so we should offer our policies as a means to illuminate and demonstrate the instincts and values that we bring to the choices we face.
In doing so we put our trust in voters’ good judgement and let them decide, on the basis of our values and instincts, who they trust most to wrestle with the dilemmas we’ll need to resolve in the years ahead.
The second test of an open politics is whether political parties can find a way to show that we are truly open to the engagement of the millions of people who don’t want to join us but want to be involved in crucial decisions. The most powerful demonstration of that would be to open up the process by which we select our candidates, including those for parliament, by introducing open primaries.
This provides an opportunity to strengthen political parties, but political parties which must have much more porous boundaries.
In the 2005 general election, 380 Labour party supporters came out to campaign for my re-election in Dulwich and West Norwood. Less than a third of them were Labour party members. Many of those who were not, had however, been drawn into the campaign through their previous involvement in campaigns on a multitude of local and community issues. Primaries, therefore, provide an opportunity for parties to tap this desire which people continually express to get involved – and link it to a clear outcome.
I believe that if you are willing to register your support for the Labour party, you should have a say in selecting the Labour party’s candidates.
And this is a first step in building a more pluralist politics: one that recognises that progressive values are shared more widely than the Labour party and that the alignment we should be seeking is one of people who share the same value-driven ambitions for their community, town and country.
It should, therefore, not seek to exclude people from supporting the candidate who most closely shares their values and beliefs by the simple fact that they choose not to join a political party.
For those worried about entryism and infiltration, it is through widening the circle of participation, not narrowing it, that we best guard against such risks. As Ben Brandzel, a veteran of US progressive politics, has argued, ‘mass movements open to anyone … will always be pulled towards the commonsense centre.
It’s why Wikipedia can self-police for accuracy, why Obama’s open forums never seriously embarrassed the candidate and why the London Citizens’ agenda called for things like ensuring the Olympic Village creates public housing – not erecting statues to Che.’
I have made the case for radical openness. But an open politics doesn’t end the day the ballot boxes are opened and the votes are counted. The final test of the open politics, therefore, lies in how we govern.
For decades, Labour has cited Aneurin Bevan’s injunction that ‘the purpose of getting power is to give it away’ rather more frequently than we have practiced it. Partly for the genuine fear of responsibility without power, partly from the pessimistic but persistent belief that ‘the man in Whitehall knows best’ or even because we feared individuality, that any gain in power for the individual is a loss in power for the community.
But the redistribution of power is not a simple zero-sum game. Strong communities are built by powerful people.
The most fragmented and damaged communities – those where family breakdown, poverty, crime and drug abuse are at their highest – are those where individual aspiration, wealth and educational attainment are at their lowest.
Progressive Labourism ascribes not to the ‘centralising’ tradition of socialism identified by GDH Cole in the early part of the last century, but to his belief in ‘government from below’ and ‘a participatory definition of freedom’. Progressive Labourism is, therefore, more than the simple belief that power lies with the people.
It is also a commitment to the notion that, as Richard Reeves and Phil Collins argue, <REF> ‘as individuals we can become authors of our own lives and, as citizens, we can become co-authors of our collective lives.’ Thus we recognise the value of collective power, but also believe that it must serve the ends of citizens rather than having value in itself. Collective power which negates neither the rights nor the responsibilities of individual citizens.
The overriding goal of progressive Labourism is to break down the barriers to participation and ownership in order to bring about what Cole termed ‘the widest possible diffusion both of political and economic and social power and of the knowledge needed for putting such power to effective use’.
So how should a progressive Labour government show its overriding commitment to this task? First, by building an asset-owning democracy, symbolised by a major drive to encourage employee ownership. Second, by developing a more pluralistic notion of public ownership built around the notion of public service mutualism.
Third, by recognising that so many of the challenges we face require individual attitudinal and behavioural change and that government’s role is to encourage a new sense of civic responsibility.
The near-collapse of the financial sector over the past year has been a salutary reminder of the power wielded by markets. This potential threat has long been recognised on the left but for too many years the left’s response – nationalisation – appeared to most individual citizens to simply replace corporate control with state control, swapping one form of largely unaccountable power with another.
New Labour was right to abandon nationalisation in favour of better regulation and measures to promote more competition. Policies such as the Child Trust Fund and the Savings Gateway have put the issue of individual asset ownership, and thus individual economic power, firmly on the political agenda. Progressive Labourism requires, however, that we must go further. In doing so, we can draw on the inspiration of those Labour revisionists of the 1950s and 1960s like Tony Crosland who called for a ‘property-owning democracy’ aimed at spreading private property ownership and expanding social ownership.
That desire to exert ownership and control has growing popular resonance. Given the events of the past year, it’s no surprise that surveys record that vast majorities of the public mistrust the financial services industry, believing that it puts the interests of shareholders above those of policyholders. But equally large majorities say they would be more attracted to a company run by its customers.
And, critically, it accords with the emerging potential of the post-recession economy: new technologies such as open source software; the rise of the social investment industry and its efforts to make pension funds more accountable for their social and economic effects; the growing power of the third sector, measured not simply in the huge investment potential – estimated at some £50 bn – of charities and trusts, but the aggregate turnover of the voluntary and community sector which now exceeds that of the car industry.
Partnerships like John Lewis, which have thrived during the recession, to co-operatives like the Spanish Mondragon Group with its 100,000 employees, the renewed appeal of the notion that workers should employ capital rather than vice versa.
As Geoff Mulgan suggests, the common thread of each of these developments is their potential to spread power more widely, to remake capitalism and capital more clearly as the servant and not the master.
A progressive Labour agenda should seize this opportunity to bring about a radical shift of economic power to individuals in their working lives by focusing on the encouragement of greater employee ownership.
The sector of the economy that is co-owned – where employees have a significant stake – already has a turnover of some £20-£25 bn a year, larger than the agricultural sector in terms of GDP. And while John Lewis may be the most famous example there are countless.
From professional services and knowledge businesses such as PA Consulting and Arup, who designed the wonderful water cube for the Beijing Olympics, to innovative employee-owned deliverers of public services like Greenwich Leisure, Sunderland Home Care Associates and eaga, which provides energy services to the most vulnerable households.
Employee ownership is the key which unlocks greater employee participation, and with it not just an excellent track record in delivering broader social, environmental and community benefits, but higher rates of productivity and a capacity to manage innovation and change born of a sense that these will not be carried out solely at the expense of the workforce.
For progressive Labourism the appeal of employee ownership is simple: it is the belief that co-ownership brings with it a feeling of co-control, an employee’s belief that he or she can genuinely affect change within their organisation.
Progressive Labourism also has confidence in the ability of individuals to bring about change in our public services. This is why I believe that individual budgets and the principle which lies beneath them – that citizens should have control over the services provided for them – are so potentially transformative.
As Charlie Leadbeater argues <REF>, individual budgets provide the chance, ‘to mobilise a democratic intelligence: the ideas, know-how and energy of thousands of people to devise solutions rather than relying on a few policymakers to come up with the best approach.’
The evidence so far is compelling that those with individual budgets are more satisfied, outcomes are better and costs are lower. The reason is simple: highly participative services don’t simply unleash the power of service users, thus multiplying the resources available, the solutions they offer are more effective because they are tailored to individual needs and aspirations. In the face of tight public expenditure rounds in the years ahead, the question thus becomes can we afford not to radically increase the scope and extent of individual budgets?
But progressive Labourism also demands a deeper redefinition of the ownership of public institutions.
For most of the last century, Labour’s clause IV commitment to ‘common ownership’ was taken to mean state or municipal ownership, despite the efforts of its author, Sidney Webb, to suggest that the party was free to choose other ‘forms of popular administration and control’. While New Labour has rightly opened the door to new providers – both private and third sector – our next challenge should be to define a more pluralist conception of ‘public ownership’.
I believe that just as employee ownership offers the opportunity to spread power more widely in the economy, mutualism – the notion that organisations should be owned by, and run for the benefit of, their current and future members - provides similar possibilities in the realm of public services. Mutuals are, of course, familiar to all of us through the work of building societies, co-operatives, friendly societies and mutual insurers and the recent growth of football supporters’ trusts, child care co-operatives and leisure service mutuals.
However, the most significant step in terms of the public sector has been provided by NHS foundation trusts. In the four years since their creation, foundation hospitals have provided a template for a quiet revolution in our public services: delivering healthcare controlled and run locally, giving staff, local communities and other stakeholders a far bigger voice. This bringing together of staff, patients and public shows how a new conception of common ownership can replace the producer versus consumer polarisation of old.
Foundation trusts have not been captured by ‘special interests’. Turnouts in elections for the membership of trusts often exceed those in local elections and, in total, the 107 foundation trusts have a membership over one million. But most importantly, research shows that patient and public involvement has changed the way hospitals are run, making them more responsive to local people and more focused on patients’ needs.
The key features of the mutual model – established for a shared community purpose, owned by members and operating a democratic voting system – should now be applied further, not just to schools and hospitals, but also to local community facilities, ranging from youth and children’s centres to parks and sports clubs.
We should always remember that issues ranging from climate change and energy use to obesity, binge drinking, tax avoidance and benefit fraud require individual attitudinal and behavioural change.
Of course, laws and regulations have their part to play. But, as Martin Kettle has written, the public interest requires something else: that those involved – whether in banking, or baby care, food safety or farming to recognise the need to behave well without being bound by rules.
With good reason, many people dislike lectures from politicians on good behaviour. But government can seek to encourage and reward what Matthew Taylor terms ‘pro-social behaviour’. Seeing the thousands of people who each month register to become volunteers at the Olympics, I believe a non-compulsory, locally run voluntary service scheme might find many willing hands.
Such a scheme could help, during a period when money will be tight and demand will be growing, to boost areas such as childcare and the care available to the elderly (and, over the long term, to assist many of those who wish to remain in their own homes).
It might also focus on specific, locally decided objectives, like the creation of after-school sports clubs or summer school programmes to provide enhanced learning opportunities for children falling behind at school and children who speak English as a foreign language.
Or it might build a network of mentors to help those trying to start and grow new businesses, charities or social enterprises, but who may lack the skills necessary to achieve their objectives.
The scheme should be open to all, with school leavers, recent graduates, those seeking work (including the many professionals who have lost their job in the recession), and those near or at retirement particularly encouraged, but in no way compelled, to participate.
All these cases bring to light what I believe will become the new divide in our politics: between those impatient to build the new, open politics, and those determined to cling for as long as possible to the old, closed politics. Fundamentally, it is a simple divide, based on a simple choice: do you favour powerful institutions or powerful people? Each of the ideas: - open primaries, employee ownership, public service mutualism – are linked by a common belief that the promotion of open institutions, open to the ownership, participation and involvement of people, is the next stage of progressive politics.