There I was in Portcullis House a few mornings ago, for the launch of The Green Book, and I have been wondering what the answer is to the co-editor Duncan Brack's rhetorical question. Why do Liberals produce so many coloured books - from the Yellow Book that introduced the ideas of John Maynard Keynes in 1928 right through to the embattled Orange Book?
I don't know the answer, I must admit, but can't help feeling that it is a sign of intellectual activity. I have often wondered whether there were any intellectual signs of life in the Lib Dems, at least since the untimely death of Conrad Russell - but all these coloured books show the place may be twitching into intellectual life again after a long slumber.
Neil Stockley wrote a fascinating chapter of the new book on green political narratives, which is important - because green policy can be exhaustingly specific and rather worthy once the Lib Dems get their hands on it. But what I really wanted to write about - rather immodestly - is my own chapter about how to revive local economies, one by one.
I suggested three important propositions:
1. It isn't how much money is going into an area that really counts, it is how much money is staying put.
2. Vital assets are more than just financial - they involve finding the assets among the wasted people of a suffering city.
3. We need local institutions - and particularly local banks.
It seems to me that these are the bones of a new Liberal approach to economics, which doesn't wait around hopelessly for recovery to come - but doesn't just beg for inward investment either. The assets are there locally, even in the poorest places - waste material, wasted land and buildings, wasted imagination, wasted money flowing through. We need an economic approach capable of reviving cities, using their own resources, one by one.
We are in the early stages of stitching this together, and I keep on finding new organisations that are beavering successfully away at aspects of this, from Transition Towns Re:conomy programmes to the community development financial institutions which have been such a success in the USA.
And to confirm that this is the way forward, there is a new report published by the think-tank Respublica, by one of the most intelligent regeneration commentators, Julian Dobson. He puts it rather differently, but the approach is related. And he emphasises different starting points:
1. Secure and affordable local housing.
2. Localising employment support to make it more effective - this isn't a problem of public versus private, incidentally; it is big versus small.
3. Using public services as the engines of local renewal, training local people and rebuilding the social infrastructure.
This last one is absolutely vital, and I think it is a really important new direction for policy: how do we reshape public services to have a double or triple effect - tackling social and health problems, but also preventing them recurring, and rebuilding the social and economic fabric around them, all at the same time?
That is the issue - and it is a good deal more important than the question of whether services are better run by one sector rather than another.
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