Occasionally I help politicians with speeches. It’s mainly my old chums in Labour’s ranks but I have been quoted by the odd Conservative too. It’s usually a frustrating process. Before I went into Number Ten, Tony Blair’s speech writing team commissioned me to author a whole speech to the TUC. I spent days on it but when I settled back to listen to my work being delivered by the great man all that remained was one rather pathetic joke.
But tonight there is an exception. I’ve just read what I think is a really good speech by Tessa Jowell (so, after George Osborne yesterday, that's two genuinely interesting political speeches in two days – what is the world coming to?). Tessa’s focus is on the need to disperse power in society and among the policies she advocates are greater employee ownership and more steps to turn public services into mutuals and social enterprises.
I get a name check near the end, but the passage for which I like to think I might be able to claim some credit is this:
“ It’s easy to talk about openness, but the test is in bringing it about. First, both politicians and citizens must find new ways to talk about the choices our society must take. That means abandoning both the politics of false choices and the politics of no choices.
In our early years, New Labour rightly focused on overcoming a series of pernicious polarisations – between employer and employee, social progress and economic progress, public sector and private sector – that were deeply damaging not just to our image politically, but also to our ability to govern with competence.
But our success at overcoming these polarisations came at a price. Though we made it seem as if there were few hard choices, that decisions did not involve tensions and dilemmas, winners or losers, all of us know that life is not like this.
We know the tensions and dilemmas – at home, in the workplace, and in the communities in which we live – that are thrown up by the myriad of choices that we each have to make every day.
Now it’s time, not just for politicians but all of us as citizens, to acknowledge that politics is like this too: traditional economic growth comes at an environmental cost; that if the rich grow richer that carries implications for the overall levels of inequality; that one person’s local democracy is another’s post-code lottery.
‘Power to the people’ is an easy slogan, but citizenship requires more from us than simply making our demands to politicians and then expecting them to go away and resolve the conflicting interests and viewpoints in a manner wholly to our liking.
An open political discourse requires us to discard the politics of false choices. People don’t believe that one party has all the answers, so we should offer our policies as a means to illuminate and demonstrate the instincts and values that we bring to the choices we face.”
Spot on Tessa.
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.