Posts Tagged ‘Tim Soutphommasane’

The proud history of towns like Manchester and Leeds offers Labour a model for practical socialism

28/09/2012, 09:53:53 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Alan Bennett has written that he felt growing up in Leeds in the 1940s can’t have been unlike growing up in a fifteenth-century Italian city state, such was Leeds’ sense of itself. Now Leeds has more councillors over the age of 80 than under the age of 35. It is not ageist to see this, sadly, as a sign of civic decline.

Similarly, the grandeur of Manchester town hall, which will again play host to events at Labour party conference, seems to recall a time when the city was more certainly in command of its future.

Paul Salveson recently published a book that describes and celebrates a distinctive northern socialism that never waited for a hand out or hand up from London. Long before the classic social democracy of Crosland and Hattersley, which saw mechanical reform from the commanding heights of Whitehall as the road to socialism, Salveson’s heroes – such as Hannah Mitchell, Benjamin Rushton and Ben Turner – got on with morally reforming themselves and their communities with a swagger to put the Stone Roses in the shade.

Salveson’s writings uncover a past where active equality, driven by civic pride, was the norm. A pride which brings to mind in a more localised sense a line that Tim Soutphommasane, an inspiration to Jon Cruddas, is said to be fond of: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

This is not the socialism of ambiguous metropolitanism but an urgency to right the wrongs and champion the distinctiveness of the particular and specific place that forms and is formed by its people.

The building blocks of the national rebuilding that Cruddas seeks are to be found in recovering this urgency. The UK will be rebuilt street by street, community by community, city by city, country by country.

Hope does not reside in nebulous, arm-chair discussions on the nature of Britishness, Englishness or Scottishness, but in the practical steps of active equality. Action precedes hope, not the other way around, pace Barack Obama 2008 vintage.

Unsurprisingly, Richard Florida reports that mayors are more popular than other politicians. They are potent vessels of civic pride, which Mitchell, Rushton and Turner would recognise, targeted only upon pragmatic solutions. While Whitehall mandarins fight their turf wars and most politicians fixate on the urgent, mayors knock heads together, cross dress and build allegiances beyond tribal lines as required to secure the important.

Mayors were largely rejected at referendums in England in May. However, as Henry Ford knew, people would have stated a preference for faster horses before knowing what cars are. As far as possible, the attributes of automobiles must now be grafted on to the equine structures that grasp towards leadership of our cities. In other words, we should devolve power to the existing institutions, rather than seeking to have institutional change precede this. Putting rocket boosters under the city deals programme is an obvious way of advancing this.


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