by Atul Hatwal
Breadth. That is the defining characteristic of Anthony’s book. Left Without A Future provides a clear-sighted overview of the forces – economic, societal and cultural – that are re-shaping our politics.
Daily, we see the results of these forces reported in the news, but stripped of context. Left Without A Future provides the missing link: a narrative that explains what on earth is happening.
Whether it is the global societal changes that have enabled the Arab spring and are destroying how British political parties traditionally operate, or an economic predicament where austerity is not working yet market worries about borrowing prohibit a full-blooded state response, Anthony illuminates the common challenges that politicians across the world are struggling to address.
As the title of the book suggests, nowhere are these challenges being more keenly felt than on the left. Europe’s leading left wing parties are in varying degrees of turmoil and the right is in the ascendant. Even in France, where Hollande defeated Sarkozy, the polls are bleak and spirits are low.
The failure of the left to understand, let alone appropriately respond to, the changing world we live in, is vividly brought to life. The analysis of Britain’s own tea party left as embodied in groups such as UK Uncut and Occupy – a rambunctious mix of uncompromising idealism and aggressive trade unionism – is as apposite as it is overdue.
Throughout the book, the insight is leavened with references to the key texts that are informing left thought (many of which have been reviewed by Anthony on pages of Uncut over the past three years.)The impression is of a left in ferment. There is much commonality on the diagnosis but confusion on the prescription.
Left Without A Future contends that the answer lies in new institutions. Institutions connect theory and practice, policy design and human experience. The right institutions will establish rules and an environment that shapes behaviour to meet policy goals.
It is a case that is made persuasively. Reformed, locally accountable institutions provide the only true joined-up response to an environment where the tidal currents of culture, society and economy merge and crash over our politics.
Some examples of the new institutions are given such as the under-reported and over achieving University Technical Colleges (UTC).
These are secondary schools for 14-19 year olds, which have a university as a main sponsor and provide a high quality technical curriculum that leads through into further education or in-work learning. UTCs bridge the gap between education and work, the technical and academic, offering pupils new types of practical opportunities that fit with the modern world of work.
They are a great illustration of what Left Without A Future argues is the way forward. But if there is a criticism of the book, it is that the reader is left wanting a greater understanding of why UTCs are so successful.
It is a question that is all the more pointed given some of the other examples have a decidedly mixed record.
For instance, the government replacement for regional development agencies, local economic partnerships (LEPs), is highlighted by Anthony as a more localised, networked body to channel investment. LEPs bring together local public, private and voluntary sector organisations to work out what is needed in the area to drive growth and how the funds that are available should be spent.
In principle, LEPs are an excellent development but too often they have become dominated by the bureaucracy and politics of the local authority. In many cases the result is that they have effectively been co-opted as a de facto department of the council. Quite the opposite of the original vision.
This gap between high level organisational design and practice, and why some institutions work and others don’t, is what could have been explored in greater detail.
Left Without A Future fulfils several roles: it summarises the different strands of thought on the left, the challenges Labour must overcome and provides a compelling view of how change might be enacted.
It’s highly readable and offers both a shortcut to understanding the current debate on the left and a sense of what needs to be done. No one book can be completely comprehensive in addressing the complexities of the political and policy questions Labour must answer, but Left Without A Future is certainly one of the best.
For those who are politically inclined and about to head for the beach, it is one for the reading list, to be packed along with the sun cream and beach towel.
Atul Hatwal is editor at Uncut