Alan Milburn, honorary president of Progress, yesterday set out a far-reaching ‘empowerment’ agenda for the next 10 years of New Labour.
He argued that the central issue for the Labour party to grapple with is that of the citizen’s relationship with the state. ‘The purpose of politics today,’ he said, ‘should be to help people take greater control of their lives so that they become as empowered as citizens as they have been as consumers … I want to change the distribution of power in society.’ In the speech, Milburn tackled the issues of greater wealth disparity, and called for ‘more to shift the focus beyond the traditional welfare solution of correcting the symptoms of inequality – such as lower wages and family poverty – towards an approach that deals with the roots of disadvantage before they become entrenched.’
Specifically, he argued that:
• Welfare reform needs to be ‘back on the agenda with a vengeance’ with ‘incentives and sanctions’ to reduce the number of lone parents unable to work, partly by requiring them to actively seek work. He praised President Clinton’s welfare reforms, the subject of a recent Will Hutton Observer piece.
The party must adopt a series of tax breaks to spread asset ownership in shares and housing to tackle inequality.
• State subsidies should allow parents to move children from a failing school, with the money transferring directly to their new school.
• Government funded by local communities, who themselves decide the rate of taxes through local referendums.
• Local health service and police could also be more accountable to the community they serve through elections. Community run mutual organisations could take over the running of children’s centres, estates and parks.
• Voting reform for the Commons, power for Parliament to be able to vote on wars and a directly elected Lords.
• The views of public service workers, and not just national inspectorates, should form the core of performance league tables.
Running through his speech and policy suggestions was the fundamental belief in the empowerment of individuals and communities. He sees this as the progressive cause that has been central to the Labour party for over a 100 years: ‘We need to forge a new contract between state and citizen where government provides opportunities and citizens strive to take them. Where the top down paternalistic statism of the last century gives way to a new bottom up agenda of empowerment that is in tune with the needs of this.’
What do you think of Alan’s speech? Do you agree with his view that the citizen/state relationship is key to renewing New Labour and what do you think of the specific policy suggestions he makes? Post your comments at the bottom of Alan's speech and he will respond next week.