For too long now politicians and the media have lamented the public’s increasing detachment from those they represent. It can be easy to blame the public for their lack of interest – easy, but utterly wrong.
The long list of scandals from Tory “sleaze” to expenses has dampened people’s willingness to engage in politics. The 2001 general election saw the lowest voter turnout since the introduction of universal suffrage, with only 59.4% making it to the polling booths. The next two elections saw turnouts of 61.4% and 65.1%, and this year while it was the highest turnout since 1997 it was a mere 66.1%. In Europe average voter turnouts are around 90%.
We need a new approach.
If politicians want people to care about politics and the institutions that govern their lives again, we’ve got to start giving people a say and a stake in the decisions that impact their lives. And that starts in our communities, sharing power rather than just hoarding in in Whitehall or the Town Hall.
On housing, health, unemployment and a range of other areas, we have to trust the British people, and understand that those who know what is needed in their local area are the people who live there.
And if we’re going to tackle inequality, we have to accept we can only achieve that by supporting people doing things for themselves.
Doing this we need to change the association of people’s relationship with politics and decision-making. Its not just about constituents trusting their MPs to represent them but MPs trusting their constituents to represent themselves.
That’s why under my leadership I want to return to an age of community politics so prevalent in the history of our movement but which is absent today.
Local leaders should be encouraged and supported to rise up in their communities, become champions, bind local businesses together and lead improvements in their communities. We must trust ourselves to trust the entrepreneurs, employees, towns, cities and county regions to drive our economy forward.
We must embrace new ways through which these voices can be heard. The old hierarchies don’t fit today’s social networks and a culture of deference and uniformity too often stifles innovation. New technology and social expression must be harnessed to feed into local decision making and campaigning.
And our party must be willing to become not just a political organisation but a social movement that campaigns for change.
Sharing power in this way helps us achieve better decisions - better designed public services, a stronger voice in the workplace and citizens more engaged with the political process.
If we want people to care about politics, want people to trust in politics and want people to engage with the Labour Party, we must become the party of the people again. We need a radical transferal of powers not just to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, not just to Manchester, York and Bristol. We need a transfer of powers to Wirral, Brixton, Roath and Stirling.
We need to follow the lead of Labour councils who are already putting power into people’s hands. In Milton Keynes, communities are trusted to help run libraries and leisure centres. In Glasgow, employers and young people helped design the apprenticeship service.
When we trust people and involve them, they rise to the occasion – and we restore a little trust in politics at the same time.
We should not undersell the importance of this task. Unless we give people real power to influence their communities and shape them to reflect their needs, we risk further alienation and distrust of politics, politicians and a political system which leaves people feeling talked at but not listened to.
Labour grew out of popular movements of mutualism and self-help. Friendly societies, educational associations and trade unions gave working people the power to shape their own lives. I want to recreate this.
Winning in 2020 means rediscovering those radical roots of our party once again. This means true and devolution to communities to rebuild their involvement in the society they live in and to rebuild the faith and engagement of the people in those communities back in politics.
For too long politics in Britain has been an exercise in pulling power towards the centre in order to wield it on behalf of the people. The future of British politics – if we want to restore trust in politics – is to trust the people to wield much more of that power themselves.