We mean power

16 February 2010

What if when politicians talked about empowerment they really meant it?

We mean power: ideas for the future of the Left edited by James Purnell and Graeme Cooke, published today by Open Left, offers an answer to that question.

The paper we’re launching today argues that the forthcoming election should be about a big choice between competing visions for the type of politics we need to confront the challenges we face. This would reveal the confusion of today’s Conservative Party, but also pose a challenge for Labour in demonstrating the confidence and clarity to win.

All the main political parties say they want to give people power. But they often don’t start with a clear understanding about the causes of powerlessness.

People can be disempowered if society discriminates against them, if the market impoverishes them, and if the state bullies them – and often by a combination of all three. So people need to be powerful in respect of each, and protected from the overpowering potential of all.

That is much harder to do if, like the Conservatives seem to be, you are confused about the state, indifferent about markets and wishful about society. You end up proposing largely biographical solutions to highly socially-constructed problems.

For Labour, a reluctance to act at the source of market-created problems means it has relied more and more on the central state to alleviate their symptoms. It has been too hands-off with the market – requiring it to be too hands-on with the state. In other words, over reliance on the state as a corrective force has been the consequence of over reluctance to shape the market.

The way forward for Labour lies in the distinctiveness of its own tradition. This starts from a belief that most of what is best in life is relational – whether family, love, work, culture or friendship – and that those relationships work best when they are reciprocal.

Organisation is how we take empowerment out of the seminar room. It makes power real. Power is not a means to an end, it is the end. The process is the goal: to create powerful people, through organisation and action. That is how society is strengthened – not by being a client of the state or a consumer of the market, but by having its own strength, through association.

We Mean Power argues that the power game needs new rules. It sets out a policy agenda to guarantee work; ensure a living wage; give people control over their public services; abolish child poverty; outlaw usury; foster a shared culture; democratise democracy; re-endow local communities; defend an open and tolerant society; and make citizenship means something.

A copy of the paper can be downloaded for free here and is discussed further in an interview with LabourList here.

We are keen to continue debating and developing these arguments and ideas, so please do let us know what you think.

Click here to download a copy of James Purnell’s ‘We Mean Power’ speech, delivered at the LSE on February 15 2010.

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