Monday, 21 December 2015

The decline of social democracy, the rise of austerity and the promise for local politics


Social democracy has not fared very well of late.

In the United States, veteran documentary maker Michael Moore has paraded through continental Europe pointing to health provision, free school meals and a functioning infrastructure:

Michael Moore: Where To Invade Next | official teaser trailer (2015) TIFF - YouTube
Where to Invade Next, Venice Film Festival 2015 review: Michael Moore's global tour is his happiest and funniest film by far | Reviews | Culture | The Independent

And yet on the Continent itself, there have been challenges to the social democratic status quo - from the left:
Podemos: how Europe’s political centre is being eaten by the radical left and nationalist right | Opinion | The Guardian
Futures Forum: “The politics of austerity have been shown to be a huge failure. The principal victims of that failure are the citizens, but another victim is social democracy, which has lost its traditional political space.”

On the other hand in the UK, the successful challenge to social democracy has been from the right:

We are the product not just of Thatcherism but the ideas of those who opposed it. ‘It’s all gone wrong,’ Margaret Thatcher said in 1981. But then came the Falklands and everything changed.


However, since the 2008 crash, there has been considerable shifting in the political landscape, with the traditional left/right or social-democratic/free-market divide seriously challenged.

In the United States, initially, there seemed to be considerable common ground between the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement - especially their concern about the influence of big business on government, corporate welfare and the dominance of the two party system:

Tea Party

Common Ground between Tea Party and Occupy Movement? | Nonprofit Quarterly
Occupy the Tea Party | Dave Pruett

There were certainly precursors to this bridging of the left-right divide:

The radical right-wing roots of Occupy Wall Street
Futures Forum: Karl Hess: Neighbourhood Power: The New Localism

And Ralph Nader is still very much with us today:

illustration by Michael Hogue

Who Owns America? | The American Conservative
Futures Forum: Ralph Nader: UNSTOPPABLE
Futures Forum: How Ralph Nader changed the world

We can see this struggle working its way through national government policy in the UK.

On the one hand, the ideology of small government is stalking DEFRA:

Liz Truss, the secretary of state for environment, founded the Conservative Free Enterprise Group, and was co-author of the book Britannia Unchained, that laid out a terrifying vision of a nation run by raw economic power, without effective social or environmental protection.

And yet,  when it comes to actually protecting the environment, have the greens done any better than the blues?

So why did they not do better? In Brighton, the reason boils down to incompetence and infighting. So poorly did the Green-led council pursue even environmental objectives that it achieved one of the country’s worst records for recycling, being ranked 302 out of 326 local authorities.

Would Britain be better off without the Greens? - Telegraph
Futures Forum: "Right-wing governments have a better record of implementing green policies over the last half century than their left-wing counterparts."


And on a local level, the left-right divide is also not as clear: there is a lot of muddle amidst the political posturing.

On the one hand, there is realisation that local government services cannot be relied on, due to 'austerity':
'Difficult' spending review for councils - rsnonline
Spending Review Local government set for further cuts - LocalGov
David Cameron complains to his local council about cuts to services - Telegraph
Austerity’s £18bn impact on local services - FT.com

Many of these are services which the state has traditionally provided:
Futures Forum: An uncertain future for policing: "It is the fact that places such as genteel Frinton no longer feel they can rely on the state."
Futures Forum: What is the future for youth services in Devon? ... Youth Parliament to march in Exeter: Saturday 26th April ... "The council needs to listen to the constituents to show it is really working for them."

Of course, local government could experiment a little:


How local authorities can boost their economies - YouTube
Futures Forum: How local authorities can boost their economies

Perhaps this should be seen as an opportunity for more self-reliance:
Futures Forum: Sharing economy or gift economy?
Futures Forum: Resilience: "building a world of resilient communities"
Futures Forum: Building resilience in local communities and economies: the Transition Town movement today

... although we need to be careful of how the language of 'resilience' is open to abuse:

Save Our Hospitals- protesters at Newcourt Communtiy Centre this week. Ref sho 4589-29-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn

Futures Forum: Community hospitals: when 'resilience' means 'reduction'
Futures Forum: The 'sharing economy', 'resilience' and 'nudging': Evgeny Morozov on "The rise of data and the death of politics"
Futures Forum: Budgeting for resilience?

... or that people's good will is taken advantage of:
Futures Forum: Volunteers in the community: 'doing jobs for free' or 'empowering communities to take local action'?
Futures Forum: Communities filling the budget gaps by cutting the verges

There are alternatives to the the faux free-market of corporate welfare:
Futures Forum: Crony capitalism and lemon socialism in East Devon ... The costs of "substantial growth and expanding business"
Futures Forum: "Small plus small plus small equals big" >>> 'There is a blind spot about economic regeneration in most local authorities'
Futures Forum: Subsidies and social engineering: or why we build roads.

And there are alternatives to the empty promises of social democracy:
Futures Forum: Steady-state economy... Post-growth economy
Futures Forum: "Another economy is possible" >>> 'orthodox' vs 'heterodox' economics
Futures Forum: The triumph of the commons
Futures Forum: Transitioning to an economy based on sharing information


Which brings us on to 'transitioning' to something different.

We can be very rude about politicians rather too easily:
Futures Forum: On psychopaths, politicians and doing business

And we can be perhaps too dismissive of those traditional political divides:

The radical right-wing roots of Occupy Wall Street

However, there is more and more questioning of 'normal politics':
Futures Forum: 'If we’re going to “get it together”, we should be looking not to mainstream political parties but to civil society groups and campaigns.'

And in Frome in Somerset, the Transition Town movement is putting much of that into practice:

Futures Forum: Flatpack Democracy: 'Vote for Chaos'

Planning for Frome’s Future: Draft Neighbourhood Plan - Frome Town Council
Futures Forum: Neighbourhood planning @ Frome Town Council >>>

But the definitive piece on how the TT movement sees itself - and how we can move forward realistically at a local level - came form Rob Hopkins earlier this year:

Ultimately, you can get more done at the local level, you can make more change happen. Seeing that change happen rebuilds your belief that change is possible and that it’s worth making an effort, something far harder to sustain when trying to bring about change at the national level. I tend to go along with John Boik who recently wrote in the Guardian:

"The national level is not the place to introduce bold change. Doing so would be too risky, too abrupt and too chaotic for a nation. Besides, it would be politically unfeasible; the push-back from vested interests would be intense.

A far more practical strategy is to introduce new monetary, financial and corporate systems at the local level, on a volunteer basis and as a complement to current systems. Such an approach is already legal in the US and many other countries; no new laws would need to be passed. This strategy offers the greatest chance of success with the least amount of friction."

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