In the wake of Ed Miliband’s foray into the ever-stormy waters of public service reform the analysis ranges from the inevitable Thatcher and Blair comparisons to meditations on how the speech represented either a “buried Fabianism” or that “dice are loaded in favour of the Fabian incrementalist”.
But rather than dwell on any of the turf covered by the astute wagyu-beef analogies and cogent takes on the degree “of empowerment of local government” I want to make a simpler point: Miliband embraced movement politics in this speech and that is key to understanding the broader direction of travel for the next Labour government.
In this iteration, movement politics means bringing people into public services based on the understanding that government has now reached the limits of what central diktat, consumer choice theory or targets alone can produce. Rather the next phase of public services improvement will require far greater involvement by citizens. In this, movement politics becomes more than the work done by Labour in opposition around local campaigns for the living wage or against payday lenders (worthy though they are) but about something even bigger: how we bring people into the government of our most important public services.
Whilst some critics may sneer that the public has no appetite to actually be involved in such an effort (and the missed opportunity of Cameron’s ‘big society’ is more than a little to blame for this) they miss the potency of Miliband’s appeal. For instead of promising, as Labour is so often guilty of doing, a state provided solution the price for which is paid for by someone else Miliband’s challenge to the electorate is the far more credible: you can have better public services of you yourself are prepared to contribute to them. This is a message far more likely to be believed by voters coming from Labour with its strong record on public services than Tories who may have sought to use citizen-empowerment as cover for the destruction of services.
In this respect Miliband is successfully stealing from the Tory’s winning frame of austerity which is believed by so many thanks to its simple proposition that long term good can only come of shared sacrifice. Similarly, Miliband is daring voters to adopt what may be a sacrifice in terms of their time and their labour for the good of better schools and hospitals. This is far more likely to be believed than by just doubling down on yet more tired new Labour rhetoric of “schools and hospitals first.” That song no longer has the same winning sound to the audience.
For this is where the movement politics of campaigning as promoted by the excellent work of Arnie Graf in CLPs up and down the country merges with the policy agenda of the next Labour government. Mass participation is required not just for the campaign for the election of that government but to shape the very work of that government. This prize is of such great value that it will leave not just our politics transformed but our public services too. It will be up to all of us to make it happen.