Thursday, 30 October 2008

Is 'Make it happen' out of date??

. David Allen seems to think it is; writing on Liberal Democrat Voice seems to think it is;

"The Lib Dems’ ‘Make It Happen’ was written only two months ago, but it feels like a different era."

'Make it happen' was essentially about shrinking the state, says Dave and now following the bail-out the "state is back in business". The role of the state has been one of the polemical bones of contention in recent weeks with libertarians. Let's be quite clear how I feel; as far as I am concerned the state should shrink but not to be replaced by the vagaries of corporate or market provision. In some instances; for example, the provision of welfare I am prepared to support the state as a 'lesser evil', a provider of last resort.

Therefore I cannot and will not support a program which sees;

"large sums of public money into support for privately-run schools."

Or reforms to the National Health Service which would

"require ordinary NHS patients to pay for some of the most expensive drug treatments – or else go without."

It is right that;

"these policies lie in ruins. Not – or at least not yet – because Lib Dem members across the country have woken up, recognised a betrayal of the Party’s long-held principles, and rebelled en masse. Instead, events have taken charge."

Allen writes that;

"the drop in our poll rating shows that the public are not convinced that our prescription will bring recovery. Let us learn from our recent experiences."

Despite the seeming toughness of what I said above I also share Allen's view that the best way forward is a consensus. Indeed, I believe I have spoken up in defence of that or the 'alliance' principle on numerous occasions; a struggle will have to take place and out of that will emerge a programmatic response that does not reflect the domination of one wing or particular ideological strand. I believe the roots of that consensus lie somewhere in the concept of an 'enabling state'; not one that stands ideally by while people suffer but one that empowers people (not corporations or markets) to provide for themselves where they can; within that framework lie the possibilities of a consensus. It both recognises that there are cases where the state must provide and provides the scope for it too shrink as people take more and more control.

We can be more creative with promoting "useful economic activity" while punishing that economic activity which is detrimental towards others and which through it's acquisition actually damages the economy. A mixed economy has its limitations and those limitations are caused by its inherent contradictions which it then becomes the job of the state to resolve. However, for those who want to save the system it is the only route forward and to be honest is forced upon us by events. For my part I would not give up on pushing for more but I wouldn't want to see things to collapse to the huge detriment of millions and maybe billions of people.

The 'Green tax switch' is something that seems problematic to me as its effect on lower incomes (who Dave wants to cut direct taxation on) could see the cut in direct taxation effectively taken away in 'green taxation'. For it to be effective in the right way it needs to be coupled with the proper provision of alternatives. Other taxation changes could help ease the burden; for example, I have before suggested ending punitive (above inflation) tax increases on cigarettes. Reforms to VAT could also be considered.

If consensus can be achieved on a way forward, 'post economic 9/11' then we would end up eating up alot more than just the support for the Greens.


asquith said...

I believe in reducing the size of the state quite substantially, & you shouldn't be led to believe otherwise by my oft-stated opposition to libertarianism.

I agree with reducing indirect taxes. There should, imho, be more emphasis on voluntary & mutual provision to take on some of the welfare state's functions. With encouragement rather than shouting abuse at them, many disabled people could be helped into work, including those who are physically quite severely handicapped.*

Yes, "mutualism" will not fully provide for people's needs, which is why the welfare state was introduced. Yet, it was never intended for the working-class self-support to be snuffed out.

I quite strongly believe that the culture in which people have no tradition of home ownership or self-employment was really pernicious, & may have held up for 30 years after the war but was always going to die in the end. Yes, we weren't in an ideal situation but the whole attitude of council estate building & nationalisation wasn't really the right response to slums & unemployment.

This occured to me when I was reading the following:

Not directly relevant, but I started asking myself some questions about whether the culture of areas contributes to their economic prosperity or otherwise.

New Labour have essentially relied on large corporations, house prices & the city rather than people's own entrepeneurial skills, which they undoubtedly posess, whatever the circumstances they live in.

If we were a trading nation, we might be less vulnerable to the kind of shyte that has erupted recently.

I agreed with the green tax switch, & hope it will reduce the burden on low earners, many of whom use public transport (in which there should certainly be more investment). As I said a few seconds ago, there are some things (I would call environmental protection one of them) which the state must take care of.

But there's the chance of a less statist, more human system that doesn't rely on the state or big business.

*Please do not infer from this that I support Purnell, Freud or Grayling. I know for a fact that they are twats who talk bollocks. I acknowledge they are genuine cases, but deny that this makes them powerless.

Sorry about this being a bit vague, but I think you get it. I've been on Jobseekers' Allowance & I encounter quite a few benefit & tax credit recipients all the time, & the DWP & HMRC are pretty much beyond hope (as their employees will tell you off the record).

Things are being done wrong & we have often faced challenges which are indisputably real but dealt with them in the wrong way.

asquith said...

The above link can be accessed at:

It is a full description of the MOSAIC system. I found it so interesting I've read it 3 times yesterday & today. It rewards detailed inspection.

Darrell G said...


I think we both do; like you have said before I think the debate between us revolves about how we get to the same end where as with the libertarians I think their means take them to a totally different end ie, the domination of corporation of market in place of the state.

If i saw convincing proof that sections of the welfare state could be dismembered without significant harm being caused to the people it provides for then we may even find ourselves on the same side of that debate. However, i have yet to see such proof and this is why i remain rigidly in favour of what I see as the lesser evil.

I think there is a quite complex interrelationship between the two things you mention. Mastering that is the key to cracking the problem; i think in that context though it is perfectly correct to raise wider issues about how capitalism is structured etc etc.

ps, i'm on JSA ;)

asquith said...

It's a living hell, isn't it?

I'm not explicitly arguing for doing away with any provisions. I'm saying encourage people to find ways out. There should be mutual schemes & you only go to the DWP in direst need.

Liberating disabled people from being bullied by fuckers like Freud, Purnell & Grayling would be a great thing. Yes, they need a lot of support in the workplace & this will probably need some form of state provision, so again I'm not a libertarian. But again, I don't see much hope for the DWP ever to deliver a decent service so any alternative would be welcome.

Well, I basically think we should have replaced slums with better housing on the same sites, keeping communities intact. They should have forseen large council estates would be a mistake.

In a community with more or less no middle-class members, children are going to grow up with attitudes that poison any chance of social mobility. The bonds of community & of individuals pulling together are soon broken.

There was indisputably a need for housing in the 1940s & 50s, but what about some kind of proto-housing association? If the council had to get involved, let it be in pockets of housing so there is an adequate social mix (I believe some progress in that direction is now being made).

At the risk of sounding like a libertarian, the reason there are so few non-state collective approaches is that they've been snuffed out. But we are the same people who produced the working men's clubs, the building societies, the trades unions, etc.

Various immigrant groups have their own support networks which are admirable: we could emulate them, as we did in the days when working-class people very much viewed the state as an adversary.

Yes, Thatcher's actions were misguided in some ways. But her hands were really tied by what I regard as the mistakes of the postwar years, which really started to unravel in the early 70s.

At that time, we started ruing the day we ever relied on large factories, large estates & in general not giving the working man control over his own life.

You will actually notice that I haven't said one word in favour of "capitalism" as you're defining it, as unlike the more vulgar libertarians I don't regard it especially highly as a model for society: self-employment & voluntary agreements are better :)

In specific policy terms, I quite liked Make It Happen. I could have done without specific numbers like $20bn being used though. It is a bit of a hostage to fortune to give quites so soon.

asquith said...

You may like to consult the book "Estates" by Lynsey Hanley. It's author is toe-curlingly left wing (to me anyway), but anyone can get some worthwhile perspectives from it.

asquith said...


I'll die of shame now I've misused an apostrophe!

Anonymous said...

"In some instances; for example, the provision of welfare I am prepared to support the state as a 'lesser evil', a provider of last resort."

Are you aware that the production and financing of social services can be separated from the other?

For instance in the Netherlands, parents can choose the school for their children, and regardless whether it is a public or a private one, the government supports their children's education with the same sum.

Likewise, in the Netherlands people have government subsidised health insurances in the private insurance company of their choice, and when they get sick, the insurance company compensates their medical treatment at the private health clinic or hospital of their choice.

This kind of arrangement increases choice and improves the quality of the services but secures the necessary services for everyone.

Darrell G said...


Yes it is and I agree. I think this presupposes a recognition on our part though that most people; in fact the vast majority do not want to be in this situation which I feel is not the view of all people.

I think we are talking about an alternative in a vauge way here and that is part of the problem. When it came to concrete brass tacks me and you might find ourselves in agreement; were I to be convinced it was viable.

In terms of giving the working man control over his own life you know that I agree 110% with this and am willing to explore how this can be done whether via direct or indirect democracy. The important thing for me is the advancement of the principle of democratic control.

I think there is alot more common ground between us and the libertarians and I think this is the ground where consensus can be reached...

asquith said...

Yes, obviously for me it has to be workable, so if no voluntary/mutual scheme put itself forward I'd have to call the state the least worst option. But I wouldn't deny that it's utterly shite, because its employees are drones: they may not be drones in person but they have to act like it.

As I explained to Jock Coats, I am not a mutualist because I don't think voluntary provision would be enough. But the whole left-libertarian tendency is one that is very intellectually fertile & we should learn from it.

I do not think fully-fledged socialism of the Attlee variety has produced very good outcomes compared to what an Asquithian (liberal, classically liberal as you remind us) system might have achieved :)

Once that MOSAIC business I indicated in this thread has sunk in, I'll be able to use that in arguments. It was really interesting & did make me think on lines that are relevant to this topic.

I will have to speak to some people I know who work in housing associations & in the housing department at Citizens' Advice & mine their heads for information :D

Darrell G said...


I wouldnt put it in those terms either but I think there is a clear dichotomy between what we are talking and the 'let the market rip' libertarians which I have often criticised heavily on this blog.

You may well be right but I think it's been quite clear in what terms I have defended socialism in that sense on this blog and elsewhere. I have defended it as being better than nothing at all and the aformentioned championing of markets.

To me the above view is a product of an overly benign view of markets and their limitations; as I have also stated this is the flip side of the statist coin. I think there is definatly alot of potential there to mine and it is to be hoped that our collective intellectual endevours will forge something that can be the basis of a new consensus....