Purnell sets out his grand vision

In a thoughtful and, at times, radical speech tonight at the LSE, James Purnell outlined why he believes the Labour party must go beyond its focus on equality of opportunity with a series of reforms to the market, state, and society aimed at a greater equality of people’s power. He also found time to criticise the Conservative’s lack of ideology.

Speaking the day before Demos publishes a new paper, ‘We mean power: arguments and ideas for the future of the left,’ Purnell referenced Amartya Sen’s work on capabilities, which Purnell paraphrased as “our goal of powerful people,” and Tawney’s work on the “reciprocal society.” Appearing to break ranks with the new Labour tradition, which was once “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, Purnell said:

“Equality of opportunity is meaningless if certain groups in society always get the opportunity while others never do. A more equal society is a precondition for everyone being able to reach their potential.

“When deciding where public funding and political capital should be spent, we should prioritise those inequalities that prevent people being powerful and society being reciprocal.”

While in a nuanced passage he said:

“We lefties should love markets. When they work, markets put power in the hands of individuals rather than a central organisation … people on the centre-Left shouldn’t just tolerate markets because they are efficient and unavoidable; we should embrace them because they do good.

“However, that is only true if markets work … Following the credit crunch, we clearly need to learn lessons about financial regulation. But we also need to expand those insights to other parts of the economy, and rediscover the cartel-busting credentials of our first term, when we introduced the Competition Act and created OFCOM.”

Setting out a series of policy ideas, some trailed in Graeme Cooke’s Demos pamphlet ‘Society of Equals‘, he married new Labour staples like greater choice for schools with ideas from the left of the party such as a living wage with relatively new ideas such as the state becoming an employer of last resort; making tax breaks for savers “much more progressive”; and primaries for Labour’s candidates. Perhaps most radically of all, he said:

“we could use one per cent of the money spent bailing out the banks to create locally governed endowments to fund the projects that the state shouldn’t and the market wouldn’t.”

Switching from policy to movement politics and the missing “communitarian spirit” which has united thinkers such as Philip Blonde and Jon Cruddas, Purnell cited the work of Saul Alinsky, “the father of the Chicago school of community organising” who inspired Barack Obama:

“Labour has been looking for ways to strengthen community through the state, when the answer was staring us in the face in the form of the Labour movement itself, and the ideas of organisation, reciprocity and political action on which it was built.

“Under the harshest conditions, our forebears came together to care for each other and organise to resist the power of capital. But after 1945 we forgot some of those lessons and neglected the habits of association and organisation out of which Labour had grown.

Since then, little has been done to refresh the social capital of the Labour movement … We treat these trends as if they mark an exogenous and irreversible decline in political participation or social activism – but the opposite is true, as the growth of single issue campaigns and on-line communities show. The people can be organised. It’s just that Labour isn’t doing so anymore. “

In a passage dedicated to the similarities between Cameron’s Conservatives and the early days of new Labour, Purnell said:

“Travelling light in politics has its advantages – it allows you to float on public opinion, to react quickly to the press, to abandon softly held views.  Indeed this may be the source of David Cameron’s tactical strength in opposition but his strategic weakness should he get into government. For Labour, the absence of such an ideology might have helped us get elected but caused … problems in government …

“So, a lack of ideology may help you win power. But it stops you using that power well.”

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16 Responses to “Purnell sets out his grand vision”

  1. Adam White

    RT @leftfootfwd James Purnell's @jimpurnell radical speech on Labour moving beyond equality of opportunity http://bit.ly/bPanIC @SandHLab

  2. Rory Lawless

    I like Purnell's vision for the Labour Party. Looking forward to the Demos paper tomorrow http://bit.ly/cyB1JK

  3. Rory Lawless

    I like @jimpurnell 's vision for the Labour Party. Looking forward to the Demos paper tomorrow http://bit.ly/cyB1JK

  4. Jonathan Taylor

    I must admit, James Purnell is spouting some interesting stuff recently. Worth a read http://bit.ly/bPanIC

  5. House Of Twits

    RT @Jon2aylor I must admit, James Purnell is spouting some interesting stuff recently. Worth a read http://bit.ly/bPanIC

  6. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by leftfootfwd: James Purnell’s @jimpurnell radical speech on Labour moving beyond equality of opportunity http://bit.ly/bPanIC

  7. Paul Sagar

    Alternative Headline: JAMES PURNELL KEEPS UP LONG-TERM LEADERSHIP BID BY CLEVERLY IDENTIFYING THAT POST-2010 ELECTION THE LEFT OF THE PARTY IS GOING TO BE STRONGEST SO THAT’S WHERE HE BETTER BE, SEEN AS HE JUNKED HIS CAREER UNDER BROWN BY THAT FAILED LEADERSHIP COUP (PLEASE WILL EVERYONE NOW FORGET ABOUT THE BIT WHERE HE ADVOCATED BEATING THE DISABLED AND UNEMPLOYED WITH STICKS)

    thing is, I’ll actually support him if he means it.

    time will tell how much he really does.

  8. Fab 5: Monday 15 February 2010 | The Young Fabians Blog

    […] Will Straw blogs at Left Foot Forward on a speech made tonight by James Purnell at LSE. […]

  9. AndrewSparrow

    'Lefties should love markets. When they work, they put power in hands of individuals not central orgnisation." JPurnell http://bit.ly/bPanIC

  10. Sue Davies

    As Paul Sagar says “if he means it.” – my guess is he will be going for leadership of the Tories in the not too distant future… and frankly, I hope a lot more of his ilk go too.

    Orwell was prescient, and nuLabour have made doubletalk and doublethink stock-in-trade… remember all the transparency and stakeholder nonsense… look what the markets have done to the majority in this country… and the absolute disgrace of Purnell’s collaboration with Philip Blond. Thank god Purnell misjudged his coup timing and saved us from some of that right wing horror. Ideology does matter – at least I can agree with Purnell on that… but how did the LP ever get into the position of abandoning it in the first place. My answer is that there was a hidden right wing coup, identical to that of Margaret Thatcher’s… as a result we have had 30 years of Thatcherism and potentially another 10 with Cameron! I am so angry that the best chance for real change in 1997, was frittered away by the likes of James Purnell.

  11. Luke

    Purnell has leadership ambitions of course, but he is also an intellectual and intellectuals love to think.

    I wouldn’t pass Purnell off as a career-oriented Blairite just yet, even if he is likely to become the Tories favourite ‘lefty.’

    If there’s one thing Labour needs after the election it’s ideas and Purnell is certainly keen to supply them.

  12. Purnell outlines fourth term plan | Polbay WebCenter Blog

    […] Purnell explained his ideas for a clear ideology of keeping the state, society and markets “in balance” in a speech to the London School of Economics last night. […]

  13. Sue Davies

    The reason why he’s likely to be the Tories favourite ‘lefty’ is because the last thing he is, is a ‘lefty’! It was exactly the same with Blair… another Tory.

  14. Sue Davies

    The reason why “…he is likely to be the Tories favourite ‘lefty’…. ” is because the last thing he is, is a ‘lefty’! It was exactly the same with Blair… another Tory.

  15. Web links for 16th February 2010 | ToUChstone blog: A public policy blog from the TUC

    […] Purnell sets out his grand vision | Left Foot Forward In a speech at the LSE James Purnell has suggested that 1% of the money spent by the Government to bail out the banks should be set aside for regulated lending to low income working families. Purnell has suggested that this money could be set aside by the Government as an endowment, which could be run by local civic organisations including trade unions. Related posts (automatically generated):New paternity rights: Don’t believe the gripeLet’s talk PBR – live coverage this Wednesday […]

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    […] Purnell explained his ideas for a clear ideology of keeping the state, society and markets “in balance” in a speech to the London School of Economics last night. […]

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