A Tale of Two Speeches

Labour leader Ed Miliband and the party’s policy review chief Jon Cruddas made separate but complementary speeches recently that merit thoughtful consideration, says BARRY WINTER.

Miliband One Nation leadEd Miliband was delivering the Hugo Young Lecture on 10 February. His focus was on changing the culture of the public sector to empower those who use it. Two days later the head of Labour’s policy review, Jon Cruddas, addressed the New Local Government Network and offered a broader analysis of what’s wrong with society and what needs to be done.

In this brief introduction, I cannot hope to cover all the issues they raise but I hope it leads to a constructive and critical review of what they are saying from a democratic left perspective.

I will admit at the outset that I was impressed and hope that we are starting to see the much-needed momentum that Labour needs to contest the general election. Of course, the floods understandably stole the headlines but Miliband and Cruddas have laid the basis for something tangible and different from past Labour leaderships. A narrative is emerging.

Of course, what they offer is social democracy but this is a new form of social democracy. The academic Colin Crouch in his excellent book, Making Capitalism Fit for Society, writes of the need for an ‘assertive social democracy’ to replace its earlier defensive form. Hilary Benn, the communities minister, speaks of the need for a contributory form of politics to replace passive, consumer politics.

All these are signs, I suggest, that something creative is taking place. Whether it meets all the huge challenges – and unbalances – of our contemporary world is yet to be seen. But a start has been made and that deserves recognition.

Sense of purpose

Miliband spoke of the need for government to have a sense of purpose. He announced: “This commitment to people powered public services will be at the heart of the next Labour government.” This means going beyond consumerist notions of choice to having an effective voice. While this did receive coverage, I don’t recall his underlying argument being picked up. Yet this is fundamental.

He declared: “This vision for public services is rooted in one of the key principles that drive my politics. The principle of equality… An ethical view about the equal worth of every citizen.” He goes on to say that his concern flows from his belief that “large inequalities of income and wealth scar our society”, preventing a common life.

The ethical basis is an important starting point for left politics and it is closely allied to Cruddas who talks of the need “to take seriously where power lies in our society”.

The critique of Unbalanced Britain I have written about elsewhere starts from similar foundations. Of course, this goes well beyond over-centralised power in the public sector to the grotesque dominance of corporate power today that also has to be challenged, as Cruddas acknowledges when he says: “Our economy became dominated by an over powerful financial sector.”

What disappoints me in both accounts – even if we just focus on the public sector – is what is not said. Cruddas rightly advocates: “Labour’s policy review is about giving power to people to give them more control of their lives.” One of the examples he gives is of a social care system “making older people genuine partners in the design of their care”.

Absolutely, but what is missing here is the role of the workforce in the public sector and, more broadly, the nature of work in an unbalanced economy generally. Maybe this will be looked at in future announcements – I certainly hope so. It deserves greater attention.

Work today is being devalued and demeaned and many, if not most, working people in the public and private sectors are leading pressurised and stressful working lives. Being a teacher today is having the creativity and pleasure squeezed out of it. All this needs addressing and, preferably, sooner rather than later.

That said, I think a start has been made upon which, I hope, it becomes possible to build the foundations needed to reconstruct society, to redress its imbalances, and to restore meaning and value to daily life.

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The text of Ed Miliband’s speech at the Hugo Young lecture is available here.

There is a video of the speech here.

The speech given by Jon Cruddas to the New Local Government Network is here.

There is a comment on the Cruddas speech here.

‘Unbalanced Britain’ by Barry Winter is here.

4 Comments

  1. Harry Barnes
    21 February 2014

    Barry: I am grateful for you bringing the speeches by Miliband and Cruddas to our attention. Unfortunately, they are difficult speeches to fully grasp hold of. This is partly due to the form in which the Labour List web-site presents them. Each sentence is shown as if it were a new paragraph. This probably made it easier for Miliband and Cruddas to read them out at the time, but proper paragraphs would enable the reader to grasp which bits go together and thus help form an analysis.

    A second confusing factor is that a great deal of what they say is in the form of sound bites directed to appeal to our emotions, rather than proposals we can clearly understand. It is continually indicated that all will become clear when coming policy review proposals are finally adopted. So the proof of the pudding will have to be in the eating.

    Miliband lays stress on what he says is “one of the key principles that drive” his politics – that of equality. His presentation at this point says much that will appeal to democratic socialists, but we tend only to have hints at the policies his values will lead on to. Although he did go on to say “you can’t tackle inequality without changing our economy, from promoting a living wage, transforming vocational education, to reforming executive pay, to helping create good jobs with decent wages”. At least he says things that can always be quoted back at him, if we ever feel the need to do so.

    He concludes by stressing four further principles which “will guide what we do”. First, “we could change the assumptions about who owns access to information because information is power”. Secondly, “no user of public services should be left as an isolated individual, but should be able to link up with others”. Thirdly, “every user of a public service has something to contribute and the presumption should be that decisions should be made by users and public servants together, and not public servants on their own”. And finally, “it is right to devolve power down not just to users but to the local level”. His final points leads on the speech by John Cruddas to the Local Government Network.

    John Cruddas also concludes by making four points. First, he says that “we will transform the systems and institutions of our nation”. He quotes Ed Balls as saying “we will devolve economic power to innovative cities and regions” and claims that “we must turn our cities into powerhouses of innovation and economic regeneration”. Then he points out that we are waiting for Lord Ardonis “to develop our strategy for regional jobs and growth and his report will be pubished in the Spring”.

    Secondly, he argues that the “government is wasting money on reactive high cost services because it is failing to fix social problems”. Here (as far as local government is concerned) we have Rachel Reeves planning “a radical devolution to local authorities” to negotiate on behalf of their tenants and build more homes.

    Thirdly, we are told that we “will devolve power to help local people to help themselves and shape their services in response to their specific needs”. Proposals are said to have been set out by Hilary Benn in his “English New Deal”.

    Finally, we are told that we “will increase the power of local places by building collaboration between and across public services and organisations, and pooling funds to stop inefficiency and aviod duplication”. Here a “Local Government Innovation Taskforce is drawing up plans to better organize services around the places people live in rather than institutional silos”.

    The package from Cruddas gives us hope and fears. For how will the square be circled? Devolution is on the cards, but with it we will seemingly be saving overall expenditure!

    Although there is no proper democratic procedures in the Labour Party to influence final policy developments, we have seven months before Annual Conference to seek to influence Labour’s final pre-election programme. I am for spending that time trying to win friends and influence people – amongst Labour’s movers and shakers. But then if they don’t listen, it will be time to get out of the heat of the kitchen – if we can only get there in the first place.

  2. Jonathan
    28 February 2014

    All Cruddas’s talk of ‘institutional silos’ reminds me of the sort of pronouncements I hear from senior management everytime they’re developing business plans. It could just mean sharing HR, legal and finance services across regions.

    I suspect devolving power to local people will mean some devolution of budgets – maybe through participative budgeting and building on the provisions of the Localism Act 2011 to create neighbourhood forums so poorer areas can get direct access to funds. But there are problems with giving unelected coteries of local voluntary sector activists what amounts to political power.

    Building more social housing would be good, if they manage to do it!

    Devolving power to ‘innovative cities’ may mean creating executive regional authorities, dominated by Leeds, Manchester etc. Not sure how that will be received in Halifax, Huddersfield, Rochdale and Bury… Perhaps this measure will facilitate regional infrastructure projects, over-riding local planning restrictions.

    I do think there is an attempt to revive a limited social democratic approach, but I’m not sure how different this is from Blair c. 1994.

    Depressingly, I don’t see any proposals for reforming capitalism. In comparison, Roy Hattersley was a revolutionary.

  3. […] meeting is partly a response to recent speeches by Cruddas and Labour leader Ed Miliband on public sector reform. These, say Compass, set out “the beginnings of what could shape up to be […]

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