Saturday, 20 September 2008

New Direction??

. If I had a pound for every time a leftist writer called for a 'new direction' or some such other regeneration then I would never have to worry about my overdraft again in my life. It was thus with a degree of weariness that I looked at Mike Killingworth's article on Liberal Conspiracy.

He wants to "advance new themes for the centre-left for the next ten years" and to do this he wants to 're-think the role of the state'. His basic contention that markets are now in effect more powerful than the nation state is certainly one that appears to be accepted by Naomi Klein et el and the 'anti-globalisation' movement in general. However, it rather does avoid the fact that nation states still enact laws, have standing armies and police forces etc etc. Transnational organisations like the United Nations, the European Union etc remain very much the sum of their parts still hamstrung and very much at the mercy of powerful nation states.

His argument that progressive taxation is no longer a "practical political option" is thus pretty much nonsense. How many companies do you know that have direct control over the taxation of income?? Nation states are here to stay for the foreseeable future and although I think the progressive push should be away from the nation state, towards strengthening the transnational organisations, that does not change material reality. Progressive taxation is still very much an option and one that generally I am in favour of; however, the traditional folly of the progressive social democratic left has been to see things in a very 'tax more spend more' kind of way and assume that will solve societies ills.

The state is a 'Janus face' because ultimately it is a force separate from society and it is in this separation that the potential for conflict between it's and societies interests grow. Leftists either want to overthrow or reform the state; I propose a 'third way' if you will, the state needs to be integrated with society. This should in-turn shrink the state and reduce the areas of conflict and maximise democracy. So, everybody is a winner right?? If this view is set in context then our programme for things like electoral reform is important and it is just as important as pushing shiny new tax cuts.

Killingworth has a bit of a 'David Cameron moment' towards the end of his article;

"However, the state and the market do not exhaust the social space. There is also non-governmental, not-for-profit activity. This is the crucial area for the re-invention of progressive politics.

It is this third sector which offers hope. Against the liberty that the market promises but only partially and inequitably delivers; against the equality that the state pretends to uphold in those few moments when it isn’t attending to its own needs and fears - the not-for-profit sector can offer an expression of social solidarity."

This reinforces the move of the progressive left away from traditional politics which, as already mentioned above, is personified in the 'anti-globalisation' movement. However, as we have also seen that move away is based on a false preconception of the powerless state. Our challenge as Liberal Democrats is how do we bring that drive and passion for change back into 'conventional' politics and to show that our policies can make a difference.

No comments: