Go Big: How to Fix Our World
Go Big: How to Fix Our World
There are five things to know about Ed Miliband’s ‘Go Big: How to Fix Our World’.
First, it is a lively read: broad in scope, rich in individual stories, rooted in evidence, and analytical. Worth reading. There is an Introduction, which describes interlocking economic, social and ecological crises. This is followed by a dozen chapters which look at issues: climate, gender, jobs, technology, transport, re-thinking the state, business . . . Then follow five chapters on making change happen: community organising; the role of trade unions, social movements . . . Power is a recurrent theme, as in the title of Chapter 16: ‘You only get the justice you have the power to compel’. The message is summed up in the Conclusion, as follows:
‘We face a decades-long crisis of inequality and insecurity, a fractured society and alarming levels of distrust with our democracy. . . Meanwhile, the spectre of the climate emergency looms . . . We must meet the moment by raising the scale of our ambitions for what politics can achieve. There is a new settlement to be built. . . . We need to recognise a different set of values if we are to tackle the challenges we face. In place of the belief that wealth will trickle down from the top to everyone everyone else, we need a new social contract with greater equality, in which everyone has a stake. Rather than believing that market forces produce fair outcomes, we need to put markets in their place so we protect what we value. And we need to underpin these changes with a democratic renewal through which we can give people genuine control over their lives.’
The second thing to know is that Miliband sets out explicitly to deploy the ‘Overton Window’. This is the idea, developed by Joseph Overton at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in the 1990s, that only certain ideas are acceptable politically at any time, but that what is acceptable can be shifted, by politicians or activists. Miliband describes the process as follows:
‘Making the case for radical change can also shift the terms of what is possible or acceptable in political debate . . . and in that way paves the way for much bigger change than seems conceivable at the time.’
An example is climate activists in Extinction Rebellion calling for the UK to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, more than two decades before the global target of 2050 – a target generally thought to be unrealistic. Never mind. Miliband quotes with approval a climate campaigner saying ‘Reach for the stars and you might get the sky.’ Maybe. Or perhaps you just turn people off.
The third thing to know, though, is that Miliband’s actual policy prescriptions are radical only up to a point. He would like to see: a green new deal; better parental leave; better social care and child care; more B-Corps, employee-owned businesses and cooperatives, along with employee representation on boards; flexible working; regulation of tech titans; more pedestrianisation and more cycling; citizens’ juries; votes at 16; and large-scale decentralisation to empower communities. Missing from the list are many of the measures promoted by ‘de-growth’ or ‘new economy’ advocates: mass nationalisation of utilities, for example, or a change in the mandate of the Bank of England, or major reform of financial institutions, or a Universal Basic Income, or a wealth tax. UBI, at least, is discussed as an option for the long term, but, as Hilary Clinton is reported to have found, ‘the numbers don’t work’. But it is intersting to ask why some policies make the cut and others do not.
The fourth thing to know is that Part IV of the book, on changemakers, is a valuable primer on how to get things done. Miliband draws on Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, pasted in below, with some good stories, for example campaigners threatening the restaurant chain Nando’s that the Archbishop of Cardiff and other religious leaders would dress up as chickens and picket their local branch if the company did not begin to provide halal meat (they did capitulate, as Alinsky would have predicted). There are excellent chapters on community organising, trade union campaigning, divestment, community wealth-building, and social movements.
The fifth thing to know is a big surprise, that the rest of the world is hardly mentioned, except as a source of ideas for social policy in the UK: Iceland, impressively, gets about a dozen references, the Netherlands half a dozen, and Scandinavia about the same. Meanwhile, China has no mentions, except in reference to selection of rulers by lot in the sixteenth century; India is mentioned only once, in reference to heatwaves; Brazil gets one mention, in connection with participatory budgeting; and the whole of Africa gets only about half a dozen, mainly to do with campaigns in or about South Africa. Russia is not mentioned. There are only six references to Europe, a paltry number, and not always relevant to the big picture, though it is always good to know that Preston had the largest bus station in Europe.
This is surprising for two reasons.
First, because the sub-title of the book is ‘How to Fix Our World’. One might have expected mention of the Sustainable Development Goals, or geopolitical rivalry with China and Russia, or the crisis of multilateralism.
Second, and even more important, ‘Global Britain’ is notable by its absence. Trade is not mentioned. Nor is migration. Nor is security. There is nothing on drugs, corruption, illicit financial flows, or defence. A Green New Deal is nothing, surely, without a global dimension.
Surely, the UK’s future, including the economic and social well-being of its people, cannot be plotted without a foreign policy. The recent UK Integrated review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, the main title of which was ‘Britain in a Competitive Age’, put it this way:
‘We . . . need a long-term strategic approach . . . that continues to adapt to a changing international environment. This is a context defined by: geopolitical and geo-economic shifts, such as China’s increasing international assertiveness and the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific; systemic competition, including between states, and between democratic and authoritarian values and systems of government; rapid technological change; and transnational challenges, such as climate change, biosecurity risks, terrorism and Serious and Organised Crime (SOC).Against this uncertain backdrop, the unifying purpose of the UK’s national security and international policy is to ensure that the things that define us as a nation – our open society and economy founded on democratic values – remain sources of strength and comparative advantage, driving prosperity and improving the well-being of people across the Union. In the more contested environment of the 2020s, this requires us to be more active in creating a world in which open societies and economies can flourish, shaping the open international order of the future – championing free trade and global cooperation, tackling conflict and instability, and standing up for democracy and human rights. We must also strengthen our security and resilience against those who seek to coerce us, and make it harder for terrorists and organised crime groups to achieve their goals.
Is there a Miliband take on these issues?
So, a huge and disappointing hole in the book. Perhaps the subject of the next publication? Meanwhile, however, there is lots to take away, including for people who work on both the policy content of international development, and the mobilisation needed to get there.
(Amended on 25 August, to add the Alinsky Rules - source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rules_for_Radicals)