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Labour was too timid to hand real power to the people

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Milton Keynes is a good example of communities working together.


Labour lost the general election because we lost touch with the country. Too many people felt Labour didn’t understand their lives. They didn’t believe the economy or their taxes would be safe in our hands. We talked about what we would do for people and they didn’t believe us. We talked about what we would do to them and they didn’t like us. We rarely spoke about what we would do with them. Painful though this lesson is, it is one we must learn if we are to be trusted again.

For too long, politics has been about politicians winning power to take decisions about everyone else. My goal is to get power out of Westminster and into the hands of the people it affects. That means sharing power with those who have none and using national and local government to help people to help themselves and one another.

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 modernise Labour’s early traditions of radical democracy for our age – not as new or old Labour but today’s and tomorrow’s Labour.

Sharing power helps achieve better decisions. It is also a way of building people’s self-confidence, restoring civic pride and deepening our democracy. We need to involve people in designing the public services they use, give employees a stronger voice in their workplaces and ensure businesses help shape skills and vocational education.
The UK is one of the most centralised countries in the developed world. Every other country, left and right, trusts people and communities more than we do. This must change. That’s why as leader, I will work with Labour councillors to look at how we can devolve more powers so all our cities and regions prosper.

It’s true that devolution was part of Labour’s manifesto but we were too timid really to believe in it or practise it. We were too paternalistic and wouldn’t put our trust in people. We held on to an urge to control that belongs in the past and let the Tories steal our clothes with their northern powerhouse and proposals to give Manchester more control over health services. Every part of the country needs the same opportunity to rebuild their economy and create better public services. Power needs to be shared with communities and individuals, not just with town halls and local politicians.

While Labour has been in opposition nationally, Labour councils have been leading the way in 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. Whitehall must follow this example.

Labour must move on from the past, too. Old Labour favoured top-down control from Whitehall. New Labour used managerialism and performance indicators to run things from the centre. We achieved great things when we were in government, but the world has changed. The old hierarchies don’t fit today’s social networks and a culture of deference and uniformity too often stifles innovation.

Devolution goes hand in hand with our sense of identity, belonging and pride about where we live. Devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is accelerating. We must support England’s right to its own voice too. But we don’t want some self-serving Tory technical fix in Westminster for English MPs. Labour must be the champion of a more devolved UK, including within England.

This means working with our cities, towns and counties to help them take on more power and responsibility over welfare, housing, health, education, transport and economic growth. Stronger local accountability means failure will be tackled faster than with distant oversight from Whitehall. Stronger involvement of communities will mean positive opportunities can be seized much more quickly.

Devolving and decentralising power is essential in order to grow our economy in every part of the country. We must create new opportunities for our best innovators, most dynamic businesses and civic organisations to take the lead. Regaining people’s trust on the economy means we must ourselves trust the entrepreneurs, employees, towns, cities and county regions that will drive our economy forward. Labour has always been on the side of the powerless and calling the powerful to account. Winning in 2020 means rediscovering the radical roots of our party once again.

We need to put power into the hands of as many people as possible and give everyone the capacity to live the life they want. Unlike the Tories, Labour understands we must work together to achieve this individual freedom and build a country we are all proud to call our own.



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