Let it go. (Photo: Ted Viens/Flickr)
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Politicians have to stop pretending they have the answers - and start helping people find their own

Devolution of power is Labour's next great mission.

Right across the country Labour councils, local communities and grassroots organisations are showing how they can do better with less while remaining true to their values. In our publication, Let It Go, we interview six public service innovators to learn the lessons their experience offers more widely. 

Oldham Council leader Jim McMahon has set up an ethical care company.  Shunning the race to the bottom seen in the private homecare market, Oldham’s new social enterprise listens to what its clients want then shapes services to deliver it.  Users now receive longer visits at times they choose and satisfaction, he says, is ‘very high’ both among service users and workers.  They key to Jim’s success is to stop pretending the politicians have all the answers and ‘just listen’ to the people on the frontline. 

On the other side of the country Jayne Moules runs Newcastle City Council’s families programme.  The project supports families with high levels of anti-social behaviour or criminality and low levels of achievement to do better.  Instead of dozens of different and uncoordinated interventions by different teams of professionals, Jayne’s team first wins the family’s consent to seek to change then works with them to coordinate support.     

It’s a dramatically more successful approach that, says Jayne, has led to a radically different way of looking at public services.  She explains that it’s “not about delivering a percentage increase in this, that or the other, but it was actually individual families that needed to improve outcomes.” 

What Jim, Jayne and other innovators like them understand is that involving the people you are trying to help allows you to do better even with less money around.  The one resource that’s still in plentiful supply is people’s own insights into the services they use and knowledge of the problems in their own lives.  It’s a resource we don’t tap into enough, and it has the power to transform services from housing to health to home care. 

This is the new politics of empowerment, but for politicians it means learning to listen and let go.  Instead of pretending we have all the answers, our job is to help people and communities find their own answers.  Giving people more power helps repair our broken politics because it by-passes politicians and puts citizens in the driving seat.  Giving people – especially the most vulnerable and socially excluded – more control over their own life helps them become more self-reliant and uncaps their aspirations. 

Labour will share power out, not hoard it at the centre, and do things with people not to them. This new approach is not the old-style state control but moves beyond New Labour’s choice agenda too.

The choice between two bad options is no choice at all.  What people need is the power to insist on services that meet their real needs, to prevent problems instead of trying to fix them afterwards; to do what actually works. 

Britain suffers from an inequality of power.  The rich have always had the power to choose the services they want to use.  Now we have to reshape public services to give that power to everyone else too.  It’s the way to make public services more efficient and effective, make our communities stronger, and fix our broken politics. 

Steve Reed is MP for Croydon North and Liz Kendall is MP for Leicester West. 

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The Randian Republican who could rein in Trump isn’t a coward – he’s much worse

Paul Ryan's refusal to condemn Trump is not caused by terror or fear; rather, it is a cynical, self-serving tactic.

Poor ol’ Paul Ryan. For a few brief hours on 27 January, a week after the inauguration of Donald Trump, the Wikipedia entry for “invertebrates” – which defines them as “animals that neither possess nor develop a vertebral column (commonly known as a backbone or spine)” – was amended to include a smiling picture of the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The online prank reflected a growing consensus among critics of Ryan: confronted by a boorish and authoritarian president plagued by multiple conflicts of interest, the House Speaker has behaved in a craven and spineless manner. Ryan, goes the conventional wisdom, is a coward.

Yet as is so often the case, the conventional wisdom is wrong. Ryan’s deafening silence over Trump’s egregious excesses has little to do with pusillanimity. It’s much worse than that. The House Speaker is not a coward; he is a shameless opportunist. His refusal to condemn Trump is not caused by terror or fear; rather, it is a cynical, self-serving tactic.

Long before Trump arrived on the scene with his wacky “birther” conspiracies, Ryan was the undisputed star of the GOP; the earnest, number-crunching wunderkind of the right. He was elected to Congress in 1998, aged 28; by 2011, he was head of the House budget committee; by 2012, he was Mitt Romney’s running mate; by 2015, he was Speaker of the House – and third in line for the presidency – at the grand old age of 45.

The Wisconsin congressman has been hailed in the conservative media as the “man with a plan”, the “intellectual leader of the Republican Party”, the “conscience” of the GOP. Yet, again and again, in recent years, he has been singularly unsuccessful in enacting his legislative agenda.

And what kind of agenda might that be? Why, an Ayn Rand-inspired agenda, of course. You know Rand, right? The hero of modern-day libertarians, self-described “radical for capitalism” and author of the dystopian novel Atlas Shrugged. As one of her acolytes wrote to her: “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your condition which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.”

Ryan is an ideologue who insists on giving copies of Atlas Shrugged to interns in his congressional office. In 2005 he told a gathering of Rand fans, called the Atlas Society, that “the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand”.

Rolling back the evil state while balancing the budget on the backs of the feckless poor, in true Randian fashion, has always been Ryan’s primary goal. Even Newt Gingrich, who served as Republican House Speaker for five years in the 1990s, once decried Ryan’s proposals to privatise Medicare ­– the popular federal health insurance programme that covers people over the age of 65 – as “right-wing social engineering”.

These days, Ryan has a useful idiot in the White House to help him pull off the right-wing social engineering that he couldn’t pull off on his own. Trump, who doesn’t do detail or policy, is content, perhaps even keen, to outsource his domestic agenda to the policy wonk from Wisconsin.

The Speaker has made his deal with the devil: a reckless and racist demagogue, possibly in cahoots with Russia, can trample over the law, erode US democratic norms and embarrass the country, and the party, at home and abroad. And in return? Ryan gets top-rate tax cuts. To hell with the constitution.

Trump, lest we forget, ran as an insurgent against the Republican establishment during the primaries, loudly breaking with hard-right GOP orthodoxy on issues such as infrastructure spending (Trump promised more), health-care reform (Trump promised coverage for all) and Medicaid (Trump promised no cuts). It was all a charade, a con. And Ryan knew it. The Speaker may have been slow to endorse Trump but when he did so, last June, he made it clear that “on the issues that make up our agenda, we have more common ground than disagreement”.

A year later, Ryan has been vindicated: free trade deals aside, Trump is governing as a pretty conventional, hard-right conservative. Consider the first important budget proposal from the Trump administration, published on 23 May. For Ryan, it’s a Randian dream come true: $800bn slashed from Medicaid, which provides health care to low-income Americans, plus swingeing cuts to Snap (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme, aka food stamps), Chip (the Children’s Health Insurance Programme) and SSDI (disability insurance).

In Trump, Ryan and his fellow anti-government hardliners in Congress have found the perfect frontman to enact their reverse-Robin Hood economic agenda: a self-declared, rhetorical champion of white, working-class voters whose actual Ryan-esque policies – on tax cuts, health care, Wall Street regulation and the rest – bolster only the billionaire class at their expense.

Don’t be distracted by all the scandals: the president has been busy using his tiny hands to sign a wide array of bills, executive orders and judicial appointments that have warmed the cold hearts of the Republican hard right.

Impeachment, therefore, remains a liberal fantasy – despite everything we’re discovering about Russia, Michael Flynn, James Comey and the rest. Does anyone seriously expect this Republican-dominated House of Representatives to bring articles of impeachment against Trump? With Paul Ryan in charge of it? Don’t. Be. Silly.

Mehdi Hasan is a broadcaster and New Statesman contributing editor. He is based in Washington, DC

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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