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The right climate for progressive thinking?

March 17, 2009

A crowded and swift affair for a meeting of the great and the good this morning to discuss, “where now for the progressive consensus?”. I agree with Matthew Taylor’s analysis of the broad themes. We are in a moment of history which requires a recalibration of how we behave as communities or individuals in the face of financial instability, climate change, poverty and inequality and security. We need to think now about how we emerge on the other side of the storm, buffeted but with a new national ethos.

What struck me about the discussion was the emphasis on global and national. One key contributor spoke of the need for a powerful, pluralistic statement. Cross-party collaboration was mentioned, but there is a localist line to pursue here too. Climate change adaptation was prominent. The creation of low carbon societies is something the LGiU is working on now through its carbon trading councils and newer carbon trading communities projects. Helping councils normalise a new set of values and responsible behaviours will not be easy, but this and moves towards a broader stewardship of local natural resources helps build the relevant local government we need and want.

This is the nub of the matter. For progressive thinking to thrive, brave action which delivers the rare combination of significant and local will be required to capture the imagination. With this comes the recognition that local government can be the state in which people feel they have a stake. Of course, reform is needed. Freedom to raise a significant proportion of taxes locally is key in allowing local politicians to build compelling and genuinely local mandates, in turn encouraging communities to engage with a state which has meaning to them and is not distant. Giving local politicians and councils more power to take both opportunity and challenge to communities of course requires the constitutional deal which has been a long time coming. Handing down power to councils in opposition control may not be politically expedient in a traditional sense but alongside a fresh, radical narrative of this nature, it maybe offers national politicians their best chance to show they are making sense of the situation.

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