Jon Cruddas MP heads Labour's policy review. Photo: Getty
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How councils are already delivering the Cruddas agenda

If you want to know what a Miliband government might look like, you should start by paying a visit to your local town hall.

What does it mean to be a socialist in a shrinking state? The Labour Party comes a step closer to an answer today as Ed Miliband launches IPPR's Condition of Britain report, but the key themes of a new approach are already clear. In fact, they are already being implemented up and down the country by local authorities. If you want to know what a Miliband government might look like, you should start by paying a visit to your local town hall.

Councils have a tendency to lead the pack when it comes to government innovation. They invented public education and sanitation in the 19th century, the national health service in the 20th and now they are on the cusp of pioneering a new approach to government and welfare. This rapidly accelerated process of change is being driven by gigantic budget cuts - many councils will halve in size over the course of the current decade against a backdrop of rising demand for their services, especially social care.

So far, most councils have focused on ruthless pruning of staff and some restriction of services. But over the next few years many will launch into a radical programme of change that will confound both small state conservatives and big state leftists by showing that we can still have active and effective government with much less money. 

Neighbourhoods will be asked to help decide how to spend declining budgets for street cleaning, leisure and parks. Some leisure centres may be closed altogether and local people given subsidised gym memberships to their local Virgin Active. Face-to-face customer contact will disappear in some areas to be replaced with websites and carefully trained neighbours and shop workers.

The themes underpinning this change are precisely those that might inform a new settlement of the kind envisaged by Jon Cruddas. Councils are heavily shifting their services towards prevention rather than cure. Services are being reformed to keep old people living independently in their own homes rather than letting them languish in expensive and depressing care homes and hospitals. In some areas, councils will pay families and carers to build social support networks around young people with learning disabilities, reducing their lifetime cost to the public sector.

Councils are taking a much more active role in shaping the local economy to ensure that it creates fewer problems for the state to solve. This is partly about working together across conurbations such as Greater Manchester to identify growth industries and encourage the creation of middle income jobs. But it is also about interventions to give consumers better choices, ranging from bulk purchasing of energy and insurance to the creation of white good stores with cheap consumer credit and alternative payday lenders.

The public is also being asked to contribute more of its time to shaping and supporting public goods. In some areas they will be given control of parks and asked to maintain them. In others, they are already being asked to cook meals for neighbours and grit their own streets in the winter. The best metaphor I can find for this new model of government is the common; the idea that a place is a vital resource that business, households and government must all contribute to maintaining. 

There is no doubt that what is emerging in town halls is embryonic, messy and imperfect. That is to be expected. Councils are being forced into a new paradigm of government at breakneck pace. They are held back by very deep budget cuts, which raise very serious questions about whether some councils can survive in their current reform. No amount of reform will allow us to run social care on thin air. 

A Labour government in 2015 can fuel the local revolution by accepting recommendations from its policy commissions to devolve housing benefit, reduce limits of council borrowing, and by devolving big pooled budgets to fuel economic growth and closer working with the health service. We live in a time when the central progressive dilemma is how to decouple social progress from the act of spending public money. In local government we can see the future. In a few years, we will start to understand whether or not it works.

Simon Parker is director of the New Local Government Network

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear