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A return to power and purpose » The Argument

A return to power and purpose

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The centre left needs to rebuild politically. It also needs to start thinking again.

By Micha Eversley | Read the counterargument by Jess Phillips

Once dominant, parties of the centre left now look bereft of ideas and energy. The clarity of opposition to the status quo provided by the far left and far right has, on mainland Europe, attracted voters in their millions. Meanwhile, the centre right continues to set the agenda as the major governing force across Europe, winning elections in the UK, Germany, Spain and elsewhere. By the time of the next election, Labour will have members who were not even born when the party last won a general election.

The collapse of the centre left has, as yet, failed to stimulate the necessary reassessment of our beliefs. We have become reliant on dead ideas. The third way, the last major intellectual and political re-evaluation of centre-left thinking, was designed to counter the problems of the 1990s using national economics policies and politics that are unavailable today. Globalisation, new technology and the financial crash have fundamentally changed the political and economic landscape. The centre-left politics of simply redistributing the proceeds of growth through increasing public expenditure is now neither possible nor necessarily desirable.

Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters who demanded more than just “electability” were right. To regain purpose and power, the centre left has to consider where its destination lies. Opponents have long criticised the centre left for failing to hold, let alone articulate, a clear vision for society. The authors of the May Day Manifesto in 1968 argued that “any discussion of long-term purposes is made to seem utopian in the down-to-earth pragmatic climate which modernisation generates. The discussion about ‘modernised Britain’ is not about what sort of society, qualitatively, is being aimed at, but simply about how modernisation is to be achieved” (Williams, Thompson, & Hall, 1968). By simply asserting “what matters is what works” (or wins), without a clear understanding of what we are working and winning towards, the centre left appears unprincipled and technocratic.

This piece explores some of the arguments the centre left must resolve if it is to recapture its moral purpose. The first concerns itself with inequality. This is in part a political necessity; both Ed Miliband and Corbyn won the Labour party leadership on a platform of tackling inequality, with the former losing the 2015 general election having declared a “war on inequality” as his main message. However, as importantly, Labour party leaders, from Tony Blair to Corbyn, have been highly ambiguous on a number of fundamental questions surrounding inequality. The centre left must clearly express what outcomes we seek to equalise, and what an acceptable level of inequality would be.

This article will also examine the role of the state in the good society. The size and nature of the state continues to be one of the great dividing lines between the left and right in Britain. From austerity to public service reform the big political debates in Britain continue to revolve around its role. It will argue that the centre left should reject the traditional conceptions of the state provided by both the right and the far left. We must create an enabling state, capable of harnessing the common endeavour of individuals, communities, the market and the public sector to achieve our ambitions. I will apply this principle to education to illustrate the way in which an enabling state is able to be radically transformative against the conservative answers provided by the right and the far left.

The “good enough” framework

In his book Post-Capitalism, Paul Mason questions, as many on the hard left have done, “why should we, as intelligent beings, not form the picture of the ideal life, the perfect society?” The answer is that there is no such thing as the perfect society and, intelligent beings though we may be, we cannot imagine it. The wonderful diversity and ever-changing nature of people’s needs, desires and aspirations means no one person or group of political people could possibly know what the perfect society looks like to all. Those who claim to know their utopia soon become dogmatic and authoritarian in imposing it on others, and cannot see the ways in which society must change with its people. Thomas Jefferson argued that “we might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilised society to remain under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors”. This conservatism of the far left has no place in progressive politics.

Though we cannot imagine the perfect society, we need not accept the status quo as the conservatives of the right do so easily. Our destination must be ambitious, without it being utopian. The child psychologist Donald Winnicott argued that: “The way to be a good mother is to be a good enough mother.” He used this term “the good enough mother” as he explained that “I cannot tell you exactly what to do” and that to pretend to have knowledge of the “perfect mother” is actively harmful. (Winnicott, 1953). This “good enough” approach was adopted by the software industry, which achieved greater success through “progressively meeting, challenging and raising our standards, as opposed to driving toward an illusion of perfection”. (Ratnapalan & Batty, 2009). This is an invitation not to mediocrity, but to a framework for achieving ambitious goals.

Such a “good enough” framework can help the centre left develop an ambitious, attainable and persuasive vision for our society. Against both the conservatism of the right and the utopian impositions of the far left, it encourages us to develop a real critique of the status quo by asking what is truly “not good enough”, imagine and articulate a vision of a society where these problems have been solved, and find new ways of doing so.

Though we cannot imagine the perfect society, we need not accept the status quo as the conservatives of the right do so easily

However, before we can begin to reformulate centre-left ideas on society, we need to recognise a lack of consensus as to whom “our society” refers to. Globalisation, defined by Anthony Giddens as “the creation and intensification of worldwide social relationships which link distant localities”, is fundamentally changing people’s understanding of belonging and society. (Giddens, 1990). Ipsos Mori found that, compared to just 10 years ago, people feel significantly more connected to their neighbourhood and the global community, but less connected to their country. (Ipsos-Mori, 2014). Our relationships are becoming simultaneously more local and more global, while the power of the nation state to bind a society together seemingly recedes.

This is not just of academic interest but fundamental to understanding the future of our society and the divisions within it. It points the way for the development of new centre-left politics. Many on the far left see the good society as borderless and global, where solidarity amongst the working class cuts across national divisions. The right, on the other hand, see society as defined by its national borders. David Cameron’s immediate response to the refugee crisis at Calais was: “We have got people trying to illegally enter our country and here in Britain we have lorry drivers and holidaymakers facing potential delays.” In prioritising British holidaymakers over the needs of Syrian refugees, the centre right revealed that no level of poverty or desperation would persuade them of responsibilities more important than the “national interest”.

Neither the conception of society offered by the far left nor the right adequately reflects both our local and national identities and our global responsibilities. The need to tackle climate change and the challenges of globalisation cannot be solved by a single state acting in their own short-term interest. Yet nor will the problems faced be solved by ignoring human relationships which encourage and sustain action born out of empathy and mutual concern. The centre left should harness the growing neighbourhood and global connections to create the good society. These strengthening local connections should encourage the centre left to embrace giving local communities the opportunity to design, develop and, at times, deliver local services. This utilisation of growing neighbourhood unity is more appropriate to the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century than the top-down approach of the past 100 years.

Furthermore, the good society should recognise both the importance of the state and global responsibilities. Within global politics, the nation is like a family. It binds people together and creates special responsibilities to one another. This does not, however, invalidate our responsibilities to those outside the state, but it does encourage particular consideration to be given to our fellow nationals. This is therefore neither the far left’s borderless society, nor the centre right’s nationalist conception of responsibility.

A modern socialism

Proceeding with this understanding of society and clear-eyed about the problems we face, the centre left must create a compelling and distinctive vision for society. The vision I propose is a socialist vision. Our socialism is about empowering and enabling everyone, regardless of race, gender, colour or class, to meet his or her needs and aspirations. This is only possible in a fairer, more equal society.

Speaking at a debate at the Oxford Union, Corbyn argued that “socialism does work”. Interestingly, he did not mention nationalisation at all. The idea that socialism is just about state ownership of the means of production has been decidedly rejected. Corbyn has, as yet, only pledged to renationalise the railways. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries railways were critical to the economy. In 1870 they employed a quarter of a million people and were, probably, the fundamental infrastructure which powered Britain’s growth. In the 21st century railways have been replaced by high-speed internet as the infrastructural backbone to our economy. Nationalisation of the railways clearly does not amount to public ownership of the means of production or even the infrastructure that production depends on.

Modern socialism means something different. In his Oxford Union speech, Corbyn quoted Karl Marx and suggested that “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” is the fundamental meaning of 21st century socialism. (Corbyn, Oxford Union, 2013).  I would agree, but Corbyn and the far left’s interpretation as to what this means is far too simplistic. They separate the people between those with ability and those with needs. For the far left “from each according to their ability, to each according their need” is a call for the state to redistribute from the able who work, to the “needy” who do not. A welfare state, funded by taxes on the wealthy and directed to those not in work, is, for many on the far left, the pinnacle of socialism.

This belief leads them to oppose the argument that welfare should be “a hand up, not a hand out”. Jon Lansman, the key organiser of the Corbyn-backed Momentum group, believes that the “hand-up” rhetoric “fuelled fears about policy on the welfare state and paved the way for even nastier rhetoric about strivers versus shirkers”. (Lansman, 2015). Behind this criticism is the argument that welfare is primarily about the state redistributing tax revenue.

This relies upon the patronising assumption that some have no capacity to contribute at all. It is a bastardised form of Marxism which focuses exclusively on “to each according to their needs” but forgets the all-important “from each according to their ability”. Every individual has capabilities and the state should provide the conditions whereby everyone can meet their potential and contribute to society in fulfilling work.

This is a position the Labour party has traditionally held. Its 1945 manifesto, for instance, declared that: “The nation wants food, work and homes. It wants more than that – it wants good food in plenty, useful work for all, and comfortable labour.” (The Labour Party, 1945). The emphasis was on using the state to enable people to gain useful employment. Under Corbyn’s Labour party, George Osborne has been allowed to claim that the Conservatives are “now the party of work, the only true party of labour”. (Osborne, 2015). Though the cuts to tax credits that New Labour introduced reveal this to be little more than empty rhetoric, the sentiment is worrying.

Clearly, where a person’s capabilities are temporarily insufficient, the state must protect their welfare and prevent them from sinking into poverty and destitution. However, there is nothing socialist in thinking this is some kind of ideal situation. A truly socialist state would simultaneously empower and enable people to find meaningful and fulfilling work. The problem of “hand-outs” is not fiscal irresponsibility, but its disempowerment of those with the unfulfilled capacity to contribute and work.

The centre left has an opportunity to reclaim the mantle of socialism. Committed to harnessing the capabilities of all and enabling everyone to meet their needs, it can form a 21st century socialism. However, to do so, the issue of inequality has to be confronted and resolved.

Inequality matters

The New Labour Government was highly ambiguous on its position on inequality. While Peter Mandelson was famously “intensely relaxed about people getting filth rich as long as they pay their taxes”, the Treasury continued to use relative measures to talk about child poverty. Furthermore, the income of the bottom half of the population grew more quickly, and the top half more slowly, than under their Conservative predecessors. (Gregg, 2011). Regardless, this vague attitude, interpreted as an indifference to inequality, cannot be sustained.

Twenty-first century progressive politics should be committed to tackling inequality. The challenge is to express which inequalities are unacceptable, and what would constitute a “good enough” limit to inequality.

The centre left cannot tolerate the levels of inequality of opportunity which exist in Britain. Thousands upon thousands of children are denied an opportunity to realise their potential due to these inequalities. At Cambridge and Oxford universities, there are more Old Etonians than those who were on free meals when they were at school. This both creates and sustains a class elitism and damages the nation’s future cohesion as well as prosperity. The cure to cancer may be locked inside the head of a child who is never given the opportunity to meet their potential. This “social waste” must be a priority for any centre-left Labour government.

The centre left cannot tolerate the levels of inequality of opportunity which exist in Britain

However, even if absolute poverty was eradicated and equality of opportunity secured, inequality could still scar society. First, replacing one form of elitism, that based on entrenched privilege, for another, that based on intelligence and hard work, is not good enough. It would justify, for example, going back to dividing students based on ability and giving the best pupils, the best teachers. Great inequalities, even in the context of equality of opportunity, will lead to elitism and threaten social cohesion. Second, there is little justification for the unlimited promotion of a particular trait at the expense of all others. Let us take intelligence as an example. In the world of equal opportunities, the intelligent could live infinitely longer, healthier and happier lives than those who happen not to be. If this is not good enough, the problem of inequality must be broader.

Inequality of outcome matters. However, when talking about inequality of outcome, the left almost invariably refers to inequality of income and wealth. For Corbyn, inequality is represented by the fact that “the five wealthiest families own the equivalent wealth as the bottom fifth of the population”. (Corbyn, 2015). He, clearly, would say this financial inequality between the very bottom and the very top was not good enough. However, there has been no attempt to express what an acceptable level of inequality would look like. Perhaps this is because financial inequality is the wrong place to start.

First, modern politics must recognise that both income and wealth are means to an end. An inequality in the means to accumulate more commodities is the wrong focus for the left. Rose Schneiderman, the American feminist and socialist, argued that “the female worker must have bread, but she must have roses too”. The idea was that increases to income are not enough. Though it buys the bread, it will not buy the roses.

The stark health inequities which exist in the UK may be a better place to start. Men in the most deprived areas are expected to live 9.2 years fewer than in the wealthiest areas. Perhaps even more importantly, they spend just 70.9 per cent of their shorter lives in good health, compared to 85.2 per cent for the least deprived. (ONS , 2014).

However, progress can be made on this issue as the last Labour government showed. The gap in life expectancy between the richest 10 per cent and poorest 10 per cent shrank by 2.5 years between 1999 and 2010. (Buck & Maguire, 2015). In this period, despite wealth inequalities growing, health inequities fell. This illustrates that wealth inequality cannot be used as a simple proxy for a range of quality-of-life factors.

Second, the exclusive focus on wealth inequalities leads to either arbitrary or vague commitments. For example, the Swiss Young Socialists attempted to limit executive pay to twelve times that of the lowest-paid worker in a referendum put to the Swiss people in 2013. Despite polling suggesting widespread concern about inequality, the measure was overwhelmingly defeated. The attempt at putting a number on “good enough” income inequality was deemed arbitrary and counter-productive. The alternative, the preferred approach of Corbyn, is to offer vague platitudes about “reducing wealth inequality” with neither a clear aim, nor a real plan to get there. By broadening our understanding of inequality of outcome beyond wealth and income, the left can articulate a powerful and achievable destination.

Despite the great problem of inequality, the progress of recent years should also be recognised. According to the World Bank, the number of people living in absolute poverty was on course to fall below 10 per cent of the world’s population for the first time. The president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, said: “This is the best story in the world today. These projections show us that we are the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty.” (Tomlinson, 2015).

Globalisation has seen an unprecedented fall in absolute poverty, at the expense of growing inequality. The biggest challenge for 21st century socialists is how to combine the engine for defeating poverty that is globalisation, with creating a more equal and cohesive society.

Against statism and the retreating state

To achieve this, the centre left must reject the vision of the state offered by the centre right and far left. The right’s position is one of an ever-shrinking state. Whether the problem is public debt, sluggish economic growth or welfare, their answer is always the same: the state must retreat. The Plan for Growth produced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Treasury under the coalition government claimed that “the government must be limited, reducing red tape and bureaucracy so the private sector can get on with what it does best: inventing, innovative and employing”. (BIS, 2011). The implication that the state is an obstacle to be shrunk rather than a mechanism for change is prevalent across the right. The “big society” was revealed to be little more than a façade for a retreating state. The burden of feeding the hungry has fallen to charities which are ill-equipped to do so due to this shrinking state. To say the least, the right appear comfortable with the fact that for many people employment is no guarantee against hunger, and that the welfare state fails to provide the most basic security.

While the right appear blind to the necessity of public investment and state intervention, the far left act as a pressure group on behalf of bureaucracies detached from people’s needs. First, there is the question of nationalisation. Corbyn’s article on People, Not Profit is revealing. It has been echoed by Labour Young Socialists whose stated aim is “a society whose guiding principles is no longer profit, but solidarity; where common ownership and democracy guarantee a good life for all”. (LabourYoungSocialists, 2015). This suspicion of profit drives the far left towards an extraordinary belief in the state. In its minds, where profit is always at the expense of people, only the state can act in the interests of the people. This manifests itself not only in calls for nationalisation, but more frequently in the belief that only the state can design, develop and deliver public services. The principle behind the rejection of the private sector in the NHS is not delivering a world-class health service free at the point of use, but a belief that to make money at the expense of another’s misfortune is morally contemptible. This makes the state the only institution capable of working in the interests of the people.

The right appear comfortable with the fact that for many people employment is no guarantee against hunger, and that the welfare state fails to provide the most basic security

The statist attitude stems also from a belief that decentralisation cannot be reconciled with equality. The implication of decentralisation, the far left contends, is that there will be diversity in provision across the country and that this inherently will lead to geographical inequalities in the quality of service provided. Aneurin Bevan famously said that he wanted “the sound of a bedpan dropped on the floor at Tredegar General Hospital to reverberate in the corridors of Whitehall” in the belief that only a highly centralised service could achieve equal outcomes everywhere. This belief has informed the far left’s opposition to decentralisation and diversity of service ever since. From foundation trusts, which gave hospitals a degree of autonomy from central government, to academies, which gave schools independence from local authority control, to, more recently, the devolution of control over the local NHS budget to Greater Manchester, the left has been a constant opponent of Whitehall relinquishing control.

The centre left should reject both the rolled-back state of the right and the all-controlling state of the far left. Against the right we must be resolute in the knowledge that positive change can come from state intervention and investment. Far from being a lumbering, unproductive burden on private sector innovation, the state is fundamental to catalysing people, communities and markets into action. As Mariana Mazzucato brilliantly shows, the state, too, is often the great entrepreneur, able to take risks that private firms cannot. As she suggests: “The state can proactively create strategy around a new high-growth area before the potential is understood by the business community… funding the most uncertain phase of research that the private sector is too risk-averse to engage with.” (Mazzucato, 2013). Many of the great success stories of the private sector have involved substantial interventions from the state. Whether it be the state-funded research which produced Google’s search algorithm or the substantial public investment in Apple before it went public, the role of the state in stimulating the private sector is almost entirely ignored by the right. Block and Keller found that, in the US, between 1971 and 2008 of the 88 most important innovations as rated by the R&D Magazine, 77 were found to have been at one time fully dependent on federal support. (Block & Keller, 2011).

The challenges faced by society today will not be solved by an ever-shrinking state. For example, the state must act as the lead innovator and spark the initial funding of green technology if we are to combat climate change. While the right would roll back the state in the misplaced hope that the market will respond to our problems without encouragement, the centre left must argue for an enabling state, willing to harness the best of the private sector for the public interest.

However, this is far from the all-controlling state of the far left which too often stands against decentralisation and collaboration with individuals, communities and the market. First, the centre left should reject the old, false dichotomy of diversity and equality. Bevan’s argument against diversity of service and policy was that “my colleagues have no special solution for the Welsh coal industry which is not a solution for the whole of the mining industry of Great Britain. There is no Welsh problem.” However, the technology and information of the 21st century has revealed the basic assumptions behind this to be utterly false. The idea that equality can be achieved through the uniform provision of services has failed. As Guy Lodge and Rick Muir detail, the most egalitarian countries in the world are highly decentralised and give local people the opportunity to design services which best suit their community. (Lodge & Muir, 2011) . Uniform services cannot create equality as it relies upon the wrong assumption that we are all the same, and therefore have the same needs.

The diversity of our needs must be reflected in a diversity of service provision. For example, in Tower Hamlets, which has the highest proportion of Muslim people of any local authority in the country, there are exceptionally high levels of Vitamin D deficiency. (Eversley & Carter, 2011) (Board, 2012). Vitamin D deficiency is linked to insufficient exposure to sunlight and therefore Muslim women who wear a Burqa or Niqab are particularly at risk. Meanwhile, in Clacton-on-Sea, the health issues are entirely different. In this overwhelmingly old, white, working-class community, there is a far higher than average rate of hip fractures. (Public Health England, 2015). Providing the same service in Clacton-on-Sea and Tower Hamlets will lead to radically unequal outcomes. If the left is serious about equality, we have to be highly aware of the difference between the provision of services which are the same, and the provision of services which are equal. To be able to provide a service appropriate to each community, the state has to be comfortable with allowing local communities to design, develop and provide their own services.

Second, the all-controlling state is fundamentally opposed to the Labour party’s Clause IV. We believe that “by the strength of our common endeavour we can achieve more together than we can alone”. The ultra-left wrongly assume that the state is the only organisation of common endeavour. But it was the common endeavour of individuals, communities, the market and the state which was responsible for the progress made under the Labour governments of the 20th century; not the state alone. The take-off in life expectancy from the mid-19th century illustrates the power of common endeavour. Individuals made different choices on smoking and drinking; communities changed their social norms; the market provided new, healthier goods, services and medicines; and the state passed laws on public health and established the NHS.

As socialists wishing to empower people to meet their needs and aspirations we have to recognise that the role of the state in achieving change is limited. Real change involves neither state control nor state retreat. Instead, we will have to enable individuals, civil society and the market to work differently.

Admittedly, this argument against the statism of the left has been heard many times before. It is a form of “what matters is what works” that frequently leads to the centre left and far left talking at cross purposes. The far left are often not arguing that Whitehall or the town hall is better at running public services, and they are certainly not arguing that they are more efficient. The argument is usually that they are the only legitimate providers of the service. This involves a number of problematic assumptions. There is something profoundly wrong in abdicating responsibility by handing over all control to the state. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, my Rabbi used her sermon to speak about the treatment of the elderly and refugees in our community. She spoke of how, faced with these challenges, society asks the state to do more and expects no demands to be made of it. We have, in Rabbi Miriam Berger’s words, “outsourced responsibility from society to the state”.

The attitude that the far left cultivates by giving the state even more control is one of entitlement to everything and responsibility for nothing

The attitude that the far left cultivates by giving the state even more control is one of  entitlement to everything and responsibility for nothing. Take, for example, the growing elderly population. In England, 51 per cent of all people over 75 live alone, and five million older people say the television is their main form of company. (NHS Choices, 2013). The 21stcentury challenge of loneliness will not be solved by greater state control. We cannot abdicate our responsibility to look after one another in society, in the expectation that the state should do everything for us. What is true of loneliness is similarly true in education, health and other public services.

The far left’s focus on state control misses this crucial point. To create a more caring society of mutual concern and care would require a state which enables communities to take control. It is neither the right’s retreating state, nor the left’s controlling state that can achieve it.

Britain’s factory model schools

The “enabling state” is better suited to the 21st century than its alternatives. The education system illustrates why this is the case. The current UK education system is based on a factory model fit for, at best, the 20th century. It is a system where discipline means wearing a tie, knowledge means the ability to spout memorised facts, and skills means, well, very little. Twenty-first century jobs require creativity, risk-management and an ability to research. The UK education system seems not to have noticed. As Sugata Mitra argues: “The Victorians engineered a school system so robust that it is still with us today, continuously producing identical people for a machine that no longer exists.” (Mitra, 2013). As socialists wishing to enable people to meet their needs and aspirations, eradicate poverty and reduce inequality, this is an unacceptable state of affairs.

However, the response of the left has been an obsession with control, rather than outcomes. The very first policy announced by Corbyn’s Labour party was to bring all academies and free schools back under state control. The ground for such a shift was prepared under the previous leadership. Miliband revealed his and the left’s desire for uniformity when he argued that “the alphabet soup of different kinds of schools – free schools, academies, trust schools and all that – is not helping our kids”. (Riley-Smith, 2015). The left wants to see an education system where uniformity triumphs over better and more equal outcomes.

Perhaps reflected in the absence of education as an issue in the 2015 election, the centre right has a similarly unimaginative vision for schools. The vast majority of Michael Gove’s education reforms were backward-looking and prescriptive. He called for “a list of authors for English Literature lessons, a focus on rigorous disciplines not pseudo-subjects, exams as tough as in South Korea, and history lessons that tell our ‘island story’ and end the trashing of our past”. Like the left, the right’s ‘vision’ is one of a factory, with students coming out reciting the Kings and Queens of England. Unfortunately, they are also likely to come out unemployed and bored.

Like the left, the right’s ‘vision’ is one of a factory, with students coming out reciting the Kings and Queens of England. Unfortunately, they are also likely to come out unemployed and bored

The centre left have an opportunity to develop ideas for an education system fit for the 21st century using an enabling state. We must reject the uniformity that both the centre right and much of the left are in favour of. Our students’ aspirations and skills are clearly not uniform so why should we treat them as such? Furthermore, innovation cannot take place when there is pressure for uniformity. Only when institutions are given the freedom to explore new methods can innovation take place. Real change therefore requires letting go of the idea that schools should all be the same.

This does not mean, however, the state withdrawing. Instead, the state must have a central role in creating the framework which schools operate within. This involves, as Roberto Unger suggests, moving the guide posts, resisting pressure of international tests and comparisons focused on the wrong targets, informing a group of teachers able to teach in this spirit and establishing state schools which exceed all of the existing private schools. (Unger, 2013). It is then for the state to give the widest latitude to teachers, parents and students to operate within this framework, equipped with the necessary investment. The state, of course, must continue to guarantee that universal minimum standards are met, but should encourage people to design, develop and deliver these services. Again quoting Unger, it is for the state to “ensure the floor and operate at the ceiling in the development of the costliest, most complicated and most advanced public services – but the broad area between … the state should form a partnership with independent civil society”. (Unger, 2013).  It is the enabling state that is capable of lifting educational outcomes in Britain and equipping our students with the skills necessary for the 21st century.

The centre left will only regain its purpose and power by creating an alternative vision for society where many people can see their own aspirations and activities playing a part. As an examination of the politics of inequality and education show in order to empower people to realise their needs and aspirations we need an enabling state. For the centre left this state must be active to enable individuals, communities, markets and the public sector to create the good society, both at home and abroad. We must reject both the right’s ever-receding state and the left’s all-controlling state if we are to create a society capable of reducing inequality, eradicating poverty and promoting economic growth which sustains employment and higher standards of living without killing the planet.

Micha Eversley is a finalist at King’s College, Cambridge. He is the co-founder and chair of King’s Politics, and is training to be a teacher through Teach First from later this year. He tweets at @MichaEversley

Read the counterargument by Jess Phillips

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