Sunday, 20 January 2019

Brexit: forget it > "The future of political power is going to belong to whoever can empower the ‘little guy’."

Brexit came about largely because many people felt at a real disadvantage:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and fly-over Britain > "Brexit will compound the disadvantage of the UK’s small towns and its regions"

And Brexit or not, the disadvantaged must be empowered - so says Will Tanner, director of the think tank Onward, and a former adviser to Theresa May, in this weekend's i newspaper: 

The future of political power is going to belong to whoever can empower the ‘little guy’

Forget Brexit for a moment, says Will Tanner

Friday January 18th 2019

If this is taking back control, then the slogan was deceptive. We have a deadlocked Parliament, a distracted Government and a toxic public discourse. These are not signs of agency but the hallmarks of stasis. Voters – whichever way they voted two years ago – will not suffer this dysfunction for long.
In any case, the current power struggle will be for nothing without a wider restoration of authority. The sense of disempowerment tapped into by Vote Leave was not limited to EU overbearance. It stemmed from a feeling that the interests of the little guy – the consumer, the citizen, the community – have been subjugated to big power for too long. The dividing lines that matter are not Leave versus Remain or even between competing versions of Brexit. The battle of note is Small versus Big.
Let’s not pretend that big is always beautiful. It is often bulbous
Look closely, and this duel between David and Goliath can be identified on a number of fronts. The growth of crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, artisanal websites such as Etsy and challenger brands such as Bulb Energy or Revolut banking – these are all symptoms of a desire for the accountable instead of the gargantuan, the familiar over the remote.
Britain’s microbreweries are growing at more than 30 times the rate of the beer market because consumers favour authentic retailers and independent products to global behemoths who assume one size fits all.


This is a reasonable reaction to decades of managerial “bigness” in politics and in business. CEOs trained on an MBA curriculum of economies of scale have chased merger, acquisition and monopoly with little regard for the social trade-offs. Industrial concentration has grown in recent decades and many markets are now dominated by a few powerful companies.
Big may bring convenience or connection, but it can be a stranglehold on the lifeblood of the economy: competition.
The same big consensus dominates government. For decades, politicians have spoken the language of localism while pursuing the opposite.
Consumers favour authentic retailers to global behemoths who assume one size fits all
Under Tony Blair, every GP, school and neighborhood policing team had performance targets set in Whitehall. Now, welfare is reformed through a monolithic bureaucracy called universal credit, probation trusts are subsumed into national contracts and the Treasury decides which potholes to fill. No wonder the prospect of taking back control held such currency outside the capital.
Whether Jeremy Corbyn gets it now or in three years’ time, the next election, like the referendum, will be won by the party that empowers instead of preaches. Labour figures may talk about trusting the people but, in reality, the leadership remains wedded to 1970s corporatism and statism.
As a result, it is the Conservatives’ philosophical impulse to trust Burke’s “little platoons” and competitive markets that offer the best hope of bureaucratic emancipation.

Making change

The manifesto for the little guy is ready to be written. Let’s give communities the funds and powers to take over their post office, village shop, library or pub if councils cut funding or landlords sell up.
Let’s help more parents set up free schools or take over failing ones, and apply the same model of autonomy to nurseries and care homes. And why not place publicly owned acreage into community land trusts, so that local citizens can reinvest profits from housing into schools and roads, rather than being forced to watch as developers pocket the change?
In the real economy, we must make industries more competitive for the small- and medium-sized enterprises which created 72 per cent of new jobs over the past decade. Let’s boost the availability of small business loans, direct R&D funding to early stage companies, and develop benign regulation like Open Banking to open the door to new products and start-ups.
And just as regional experimentation has worked in America, we should harness Britain’s varied economic geography as a test-bed for innovation.
The manifesto for the little guy is ready to be written
Finally, let’s downsize the form rather than function of the state. There will always be a case for running national infrastructure projects from Whitehall but the arguments against most local delivery of public services are vapid.
The reality is that postcode lotteries exist whether planners want them to or not: just ask the NHS. And taxpayers know from bitter experience that cost and time overruns all too often undermine the economic case for centralised delivery when it is too late.
Let’s not pretend that big is always beautiful. It is often bulbous. Let’s be honest that the relentless pursuit of scale necessarily leads to the loss of substance. The backlash against big has just begun, and the sooner our politicians catch on, the sooner we can all take back control.
Will Tanner is director of the think tank Onward, and a former adviser to Theresa May

The future of political power is going to belong to whoever can empower the 'little guy'

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