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Seven initial steps to begin to challenge neo-liberalism

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett Gerry Hassan
5 January 2009

In an extract from: 'Breaking Out of Britain's Neo-Liberal State' published as a Compass Thinkpiece today, and based on their original openDemocracy essay in OurKingdom, Gerry Hassan and Anthony Barnett identify seven key steps towards the renewal of British democracy.

1.  We need to identify “the official future” – the mantra of globalisation wherever it is – nationally, internationally, in the public and private realms, and critique it, defeat it and supplant it;

2. The world view of the bloviators – the Floridas, Gladwells and others  – who have offered themselves as voices and apologists for the winners and the global order, needs to be seen as part of the problem, along with the damage they have done and their role in legitimising the “new conservatism”;

3. Public discourse has to be reclaimed from the neo-liberals, whether first wave, second wave, instrumental, personal or unwittingly. Government and public agencies need to fundamentally rethink how they conceive and think of policy, the language and values in documents, and whose voice and interest such processes are serving;

4. The British “public” overall does not see itself in the language of “consumers” and “customers” in relation to public service. For the last thirty years, the public have been force-fed a diet of New Public Management, choice and privatisation, and still they don’t find it attractive or buy it. Sadly nor do people see themselves in the idea of “citizens”. We need to think, nurture and organise public services in new ways which are neither New Right nor the technical fixes of co-production;

5. Policy literalism is increasingly recognised as a problematic way of doing politics. There is a direct link between the micro-policy and management of the Blair-Brown years – legislation “overload” and command and control – and the suffocating consensus of the mainstream, which shuts down open discussion of the macro-questions about the economy and society;

6. The nature of the British state is fundamental to the current crisis and laid the basis for the acute nature of the problems Britain faces in the global downturn.  The British regime formed over the thirty years of Thatcher to Brown has seen an inter-twinning of the economic, social and political into a neo-liberal state and polity that commands the loyalty of all the main parties. An escape route has yet to be discovered given the closed nature of the British system.

7. Any such escape needs the people of the United Kingdom to make their own claim upon public power with a modern form of citizenship which aids an emancipatory state, culture and society. This will involve a political culture and system which recognises the centrality of fundamental human rights that protect minorities as well as a modern liberty that stops the development of an authoritarian, database state. All of which will require a way of retelling and reimagining the stories of the peoples and the nations of the UK.

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