January 10, 2011
I’d like to touch on a subtlety in Nick Clegg’s speech last Friday which doesn’t seem to have been picked up elsewhere.
“It is part of our wider project to resettle the relationship between people and government. Our political reforms, decentralisation, changes to public services, rebalancing growth, our focus on social mobility – these are all geared towards shifting power away from its traditional centres.
And it is that fairer dispersal of power that will guarantee British liberties in the long run. We want to empower individuals and communities so comprehensively, so irreversibly, that no future Government will easily be able to behave in ways that are authoritarian or illiberal.
It’s a power shift even a casual Labour party would struggle to reverse.”
Nice pun at the end, Clegg. I’d like to believe it was a typo rather than a dig at seasonal workers.
Moving on to the content of these two paragraphs, what they indicate is interesting. Clegg is saying that he wants to shift the political centre ground to the point where state control of individuals becomes politically impossible, by means of distributing power out from the centre. A fine liberal aim, I’m sure you’ll agree. What’s missing is the subtext: empowering individuals and communities with the purpose of preventing state control removes significant scope for traditional Labour statism. If the levers of the state are reduced, and rebuilding them becomes electorally unpalatable, then much of the political space for the Labour party disappears. A party based on using the power of the State for moral ends can have little place in a country in which that power is so fragmented that no one political grouping can grasp it all.
It would therefore seem that Clegg’s intention is to use the next four years to reshape Britain in a way which makes the Labour Party irrelevant. This will be interesting to watch.