Sorry to have disappeared for so long. I've had flu and goodness knows what else. But I've been roused into activity by the latest leader's speech.
Nick Clegg’s speech in Rotherham was vitally important. Not only did it re-state the kind of language about the economy that was in the coalition agreement – a commitment to reviving the real economy, not the speculative economy of financial services. It was also important for another reason, which maybe was less conscious. It provides a future agenda for the Lib Dems, if they have the nerve to grasp it.
It was a relief that the coalition is still on track in its promises to rebalance the economy, and to interpret that as it was originally interpreted – to create enterprise, not just cream off the profits of speculation. There had been some signs that, thanks to the old guard at the Treasury, this vital commitment was being watered down.
He also gargled with the idea of a Green Investment Bank which may mean – fingers crossed – that the battle against the Treasury has been won over this important commitment.
So far so good. But here’s the problem. There is no understanding in government – and certainly not in the Lib Dems – about how in practice you grow this new local economy. How, in Sheffield or Liverpool, do we cultivate this new enterprise? The gap was horribly obvious in the speech. What do we do? Wait for it to pop up of its own accord?
But there is a way forward. There are a whole range of techniques, based on building value chains and re-circulating money – on diverse local economies, not Tesco monocultures – which are emerging from outside mainstream economics. The New Economics Foundation, the Ford Foundation and many others around the world, are showing the way forward.
It’s time the Lib Dems grabbed this agenda, preferably soon enough to press it into use by the coalition.
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