Monday, June 02, 2008

Common ground

Hopi Sen has a good piece on the 'redistribution of hope'. In the comments, he writes that:

"It’s the history of the modern state, a strong activist state, but which is aware of its limitations, can work wonders, from the US to Sweden, from West Germany to South Korea.

Of course that power has to be limited, and the role of the state is to serve the individual, not the individual the state. It is social democracy, not the totalitarian state or the laissez faire market, that has wrought mass literacy, mass healthcare, a social safety net, social housing and a more comfortable society for country after country. We can argue about its precise parameters, but the essential truth is real enough.

The challenge isn’t about how to “extend the reach of the state”, but how to change the state's provision of services to meet the needs of all of us. I believe that having established “mass services”, the next great progressive step is to establish “personal support”.

In the short term, yes, that requires more resources, but you’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope if you think that’s the aim of the exercise. I’d be happier if in a generation's time the lowered cost of social failure meant no-one under average incomes had to pay tax at all."

What's particularly interesting about this argument is that I think most Labour people, whatever they think of 'Blairism' or of Gordon Brown, would agree with this, and most Tories wouldn't. Of course, accepting all the above does not mean people will agree on how it is to be done e.g. whether city academies, involving private companies in delivering healthcare and so on are good ways of establishing 'personal support' in public services or not.

But one of the problems at the moment is that there are fierce arguments in the Labour Party between people who often presume bad faith and motives from each other, but actually disagree on a lot less then they think they do. So instead of discussing the advantages and disadvantages of different ways of achieving the common aim of using an activist state to meet people's personalised needs, we go straight to arguments which go like 'you are no better than the Tories because you want to privatise everything' vs 'you want us to lurch back to the left like we did in the 1980s'.

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