Today’s New Deal for England announcement by Labour doesn’t just underline how much of the political action is in the regions at the moment, but how the party is coming to terms with some of the mistakes that it made when it was last in government.
The significant devolution of power and spending to local government announced today by the Local Government Innovation Taskforce is a clever way for Ed Balls to save money, but it’s also a recognition across the party that a centralised state did not delve the sort of results it should have done in the party’s 13 years of power, and so something must change. It was initially a conviction of a few key party thinkers that was resisted vigorously by equally key colleagues, but is now the prevailing philosophy. When I talked to one senior Labour figure about why the party was falling in love with localism, aside from it being an affliction of any party in opposition, he said:
‘We’ve had to recognise that we didn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve in government, that we didn’t make sufficient advances on poverty in the way we wanted to. So something has to change.’
Slowly groups as diverse as the Fabians and Progress and figures are diverse as Jon Cruddas and Ed Balls have ended up agreeing on this agenda, even if it is for slightly different reasons.
But it’s worth looking at how much of today’s announcement is about empowering local government, and how much of it passes power on to the individual. Some Labourites are dissatisfied not because they disagree with the idea of passing power down from Whitehall, but because they fear that the very thing Hilary Benn and Jon Cruddas criticise in this piece, that ‘too much is about structures rather than individuals’ will remain the case once local government has got its hands on the power.