Too civil about society

Labour’s newly published civil society strategy “From paternalism to participation” has got a glowing response from various sector bodies despite it quite clearly having no chance of achieving it’s stated objectives.

At the heart of the strategy is a bleak almost overpowering diagnosis of the state of the UK:

“relationships have been weakened and communities atomised as society has been made to serve the economy rather than the other way round. Families are broken up as family members who would prefer to stay close move away to look for opportunities that don’t exist nearer home. Older people are left isolated as society fragments around them. Young people feel their future is being taken away. Too many public services treat people as problems to be managed in isolation”

Which is juxtaposed with a vision of a better world

“We want to deepen democracy and transfer real power to the people of this country so they can take control of the decisions that affect them.”

What policies will get us to these sunny uplands? The answer, as they say, may surprise you:

“a Community Innovation Fund using funds from dormant assets and philanthropic giving to provide money for communities to run activities and projects in them”

Contrast this tremendously modest policy with the detailed, radical plan outlined in the recently published Land for the many which included:

  • free and open access to data on land ownership
  • an explicit government goal to stabilise house prices to improve the long-term house-price-to-income ratio.
  • redirect bank lending to productive sectors and reduce speculative demand for land.
  • proposals for a Common Ground Trust to buy land underlying a house, to reduce house prices and bring in the idea of socialised land rents.
  • major reforms to private renting with a cap on rent increases and an ambitious social housing programme.
  • replace council tax with a progressive property tax payable by owners not tenants – with surcharges for empty and second homes and non-UK residents.
  • phase out stamp duty land tax for owner occupiers.
  • replace business rates with a commercial Land Value Tax.
  • new Development Corporations buy sell and develop land to create new towns.
  • enable public bodies to buy land at closer to current use value
  • remove permitted development rights that allow offices to be converted to homes without needing planning permission.

The ambition and coherence of this list is breathtaking and stands in stark relief with the small scale and piecemeal nature of the inoffensive and cautious ideas in the civil society strategy.

This is an opportunity. Labour does not currently have a radical detailed road-map for building a stronger civil society. Let’s give them some ideas!

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