Britain’s biggest progressive think tank sets out its new agenda
11 October 2016
At its launch in Coin Community Centre on the South Bank, the New Economics Foundation will today unveil an agenda to:
A summer of disarray and division – followed by a party conference season that confirmed the Government’s likely pursuit of a “hard Brexit” – has led many to despair of politics ever being able to offer real answers for millions of people who want change.
But the Foundation today will demonstrate how transformative economic reform is still possible with the unveiling of an agenda that meets people’s deep desire for more control over their lives – without promising them false solutions that make matters worse.
The new agenda, which will drive all the Foundation’s work in the weeks and years to come, means wresting back the idea of people “taking control” from those who widely misused and misappropriated it during the referendum.
A new poll published by the Foundation reveals that the desire for control is not confined to Leave voters but is one also shared by people who backed Remain. Key findings include 62% of Remain voters saying the world is run by “the few people in power and there is not much the ordinary citizen can do about it”.
Just 27% of Remain voters agreed with a statement saying “the average citizen can have an influence on government decisions” while a clear majority of 55% specifically identified big business and corporate elites as having “too much control over their lives”.
The Foundation’s new agenda for people to take control draws on everyday experiences ranging from people in seaside communities who feel abandoned by the political elite, taxi drivers in London trying to make a living in an Uber-ised economy, small businesses starved of finance, consumers overcharged for energy, and young families hoping for their first home or worried about the cost of childcare.
It seeks to give all of them the tools they need to change their lives right now: a new clean marine economy to revive coastal towns; a taxi app owned and controlled by drivers; stakeholder banks that serve local firms; renewable energy production by communities themselves; the first maps of vacant public land available for housebuilding; and childcare co-operatives.
Each of these tools is being developed primarily with new institutions such as devolved government, city mayors and forward-looking businesses to trade union and community-led campaigns across the country.
This is the first time a major think tank has decided to focus on bringing real change first to people’s lives and communities rather than the top-down approach of influencing ministers, legislation or getting included in a political party’s manifesto.
The launch today will include contributions form across the political spectrum including Caroline Lucas, Ed Miliband, Laura Sandys and Vince Cable. Andy Burnham will close the conference with his first major intervention since leaving the Shadow Cabinet in order to run for Mayor of Manchester.
The event brings together leaders from across the movement for progressive economic reform. Those present include the directors of Britain’s other leading progressive think tanks such as British Future, IPPR, the Resolution Foundation; the heads of major philanthropic foundations including the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and the Friends Provident Foundation; leading figures from community organising groups such as Citizens UK, the Industrial Areas Foundation and Locality; and the heads of major campaigning NGOs such as Refugee Action.
Marc Stears, chief executive of the New Economics Foundation, will say:
“As the debate about Brexit gathers intensity, one thing is now clearer than ever: there has never been a greater need for a new economy or a more important moment to act for progressive change than right now.”
“The Referendum revealed that many feel they have lost control over their lives and are now being left behind by changes in the economy. And now those same people are being promised a parody of control in the form of a “hard” Brexit that will only make matters worse.”
“Yet, in the midst of all this upheaval, a surge of energy is being generated that can crack open new possibilities for change, now, not at some distant point in the future.”
“That is why, today, we reject the old model of think tanks. We know change does not begin in the corridors of power. And the summit of our ambition is bigger than solely influencing legislation or hoping to getting included in a political party’s manifesto.”
“Instead, the New Economics Foundation exists to drive this change and give people the tools they need to take real control.”
“We are rooted outside the traditional boundaries of politics. We care most about people’s everyday experience and we will work with communities of all kinds to help them take control.”
“The Foundation will forge new partnerships with new institutions with real power.”
“And we will offer an agenda for people to take more control over the decisions and resources that affect their lives today and a plan for how we can all begin to change the whole system tomorrow.”
“These are the kind of projects that can inspire people across the country really to take control.”
The launch of the Foundation’s new agenda is being welcomed by leading figures from politics, business and trade unions.
Mustafa Suleyman, the co-founder of Google DeepMind, said:
“Technology is reshaping our world, creating amazing opportunities to improve people’s lives. At the same time, there are challenges in ensuring that the benefits are broadly shared and that those affected have a say in the directions taken.”
“At DeepMind, we are eager to see a diverse spectrum of thought brought to bear on these and other social and economic questions. The launch of a new agenda and new projects on the digital economy by the New Economics Foundation will contribute welcome research and insight to these important debates.”
Laura Sandys, former Conservative MP, said:
“If they are going to deliver on giving the public more control over their lives, politicians must not use Brexit as a power grab for Whitehall and Westminster. It will be tempting to make this land grab and not realise that the vote was not a mandate for Ministers to have more control, but for the public to gain power.”
“We need a turbocharged localism bill placing power redistribution at the heart of the government’s agenda to ensure that the discontent of the public doesn’t migrate from Europe to Westminster.”
Frances O’ Grady, the General Secretary of the TUC, said:
“The Brexit vote sent a clear message that people feel abandoned by Westminster politics. So there’s an urgent need for policy makers to better engage with communities across the UK. Trade unions believe in more than just listening to people, we believe in involving them, empowering them and letting them lead. So it’s great to see a leading policy organisation organising around this principle too.”
Ed Miliband MP, former Leader of the Labour Party, said:
“This is a moment for our country when our whole economic settlement and place in the world is in question. There can be no better time for the New Economics Foundation to help chart a new course for progressives.We need to show that real control comes only from progressive ideas which use the power of government and movements to shape the forces of globalisation and technology and build a more equal, sustainable and democratic future.”
Caroline Lucas MP, co-leader of the Green Party, said:
“Do we want a politics and economy of the future? Or do we want to step back in time to a smaller, closed Britain? We need big ideas now more than ever. From a radical plan to fix our democracy, to a transition away from fossil fuels – this is the time to reimagine the way this country works. The New Economics Foundation has never been afraid of big ideas – and I look forward to hearing more from them in the coming weeks and months and work together for a brighter Britain.”
Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester, said:
“The referendum result reflected a cry for change in the way the country is run. The London perspective has dominated the political debate and it has failed many parts of our country. Devolution will capture people’s imaginations if it represents a real break with the idea that there should be one approach for the whole country dictated by the interests of London and the South-East.”
“Devolution won’t succeed if it is simply about running public services slightly better than the Tories, or making a few minor changes at the edges. It must be about breaking the stale Westminster policy consensus with bold ideas.”
1. Examples of the projects and campaigns at the heart of the New Economics Foundation’s new agenda:
2. The poll was conducted online between 19 and 22 September by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner on behalf of the New Economics Foundation.
The sample consisted of 1504 Remain voters. Data was weighted to be representative of Remain voters in terms of region, age, gender, class and past vote.
3. The launch of the New Economic Foundation’s agenda to take control will take place at Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre on London’s South Bank on Tuesday 11 October, 11am-5pm. Media wishing to attend or seeking further details should contact Ross Haig on 0787 596 6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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