Friday, 27 May 2011

Things you don't often read in the Guardian...

Not being (which won't surprise you dear reader) a regular Guardian reader, I'd not seen anything by Dave Clements. And I guess I would - in my intolerance - have simply labelled him another trendy lefty public sector worker. Today though he wrote this:

With the exception of those whose livelihoods depend on it – reportedly half a million took to the streets in March – there has been a notable absence of opposition to the cuts from the wider public. The funny thing is that for all the official plaudits, nobody dare mention the apparent indifference of the supposed beneficiaries of public services. The institutions borne of the welfare state are far from “cherished”, as the leader of the opposition would have us believe. If anything, they are endured because of the lack of an alternative.

I think Dave's got it about right there - in my recent election campaign, the "cuts" were only mentioned by those facing possible redundancy (a feeling and experience I was able to understand having been in that situation up to Christmas - when possibility became reality). I was also struck by Dave's questioning of the statist norm:

It is not so much that the state is a drain on private enterprise; it is more that the political culture it gives expression to inhibits social enterprise. It crowds out – to borrow a phrase – the social action on which a healthy society is dependent. If we are to revive the public service ethos and defend public services that people need and want, we must first develop a respect for people’s autonomy and begin to recognise their capacity to run their own lives.

It seems to me that this position - rejecting the controlling Fabian state - represents the opening for a new politics where autonomy and liberty are given. A politics that embraces left and right, debates the merits of collective and individual rights and argues about the balance between personal choice and community power but does all this in the context of a much smaller state.

If more on the left embrace this option - and there are many, I don't doubt, who share Dave Clements' view - we might stumble towards a society less helpless in the face of officialdom, less dependent on the state, more grown up in its independence and less prepared to be pushed about by government, big business or their agents. We might get closer to sorting out our own problems - to that mystic place where 'Big Society' is real rather than something teetering close to being just a differentiating slogan.

I guess I can dream a little!


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