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11 November 2008

Libertarian Labour?

Hazel Blears responds to 'point scoring'

By Hazel Blears

The white paper Communities In Control, and the points I made in my Hansard speech last week, are firmly decentralist, localist, and in favour of passing more power to the people.

I want to see more real power in the hands of local people, stronger local government, more local co-ops, social enterprises and voluntary groups, and a variety of ways for the citizen to engage in the democratic process.

You would think that a Lib Dem might want to engage with some of this debate, because I always thought the Liberals were in favour of the decentralisation of power. But it turns out they would rather score points than support measures which would empower local communities. That’s a shame.

My politics is driven by my passion to see power, influence and control in the hands of local people. My approach is informed by seeing what has worked in Salford. When people have been given the tools, they will do the job. I’ve seen people step up to clean up their neighbourhoods, tackle crime and anti-social behaviour, run Sure Start centres, and regenerate their communities. There’s no shortage of energy, common sense, and determination. John Smith called it ‘the extraordinary potential of ordinary people’, and I see it time and time again as I go round the country, or in my own home city.

Within the British socialist tradition is a strong decentralist strand. Think William Morris, GDH Cole, the municipal ‘gas and water’ socialists, and all those campaigners in women’s groups, gay liberation, and anti-racist groups. Indeed anyone who ever organised a demo, booked a hall, organised a fund-raiser or knocked on doors is part of the progressive tradition which says ‘no answer but your own’.

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But the point is that progressive governments need to create the framework for all of this energy and enthusiasm to be channelled in ways that makes a practical difference.

Politics isn’t just about protest, it’s about change. Unless we as government can co-opt all of the people who want to stand up for their communities, do something for the environment, take on drugs gangs, or raise money for their local school, then we will never made lasting change.

We can’t do it all from Whitehall. It needs champions in every community, taking on the vested interests, creating a new common sense of the age. Progressive politics is about winning electoral power, in order to give it away to people.

It is a pity that the Liberals, who after all haven’t been in power for 90 years, and whose entire approach seems to comprise shouting from the sidelines, just don’t get it.