Councils must show how local change can offer solutions that Whitehall cannot

By Ben Page | 04 October 2017
  • Ben Page

Hello from Manchester. In the last two weeks, I have been at party conferences where the winning Conservative Party think it lost and the losing Labour party thinks it won.

Most striking of all is Jeremy Corbyn’s assertion that his plans for a return of large parts of the economy to state ownership is the mainstream of British politics.

But things are changing. June’s General Election saw the biggest age gap MORI ever measured in voting intention – with the under-44s voting Labour overall and older voters massing for the Conservatives.

The over-55s say Brexit and immigration are key concerns, for the under-45s, it is housing and poverty.

The NHS unites the generations as an issue, but little else does.

However, British values move much less quickly than political sound bites. What is unchanging in Britain is that all generations agree the next generation should be better off than the one before it.

Everyone – whatever their tenure – wants to own their own home. While not shifting ideologically, people have always loved the NHS; people opposed water privatisation in the 1980s and opposed each subsequent privatisation – unless it worked.

But now a large section of the public do not believe they are going to benefit from the current economic model. The young fear that they will not get a secure home, job or pension. The traditional political verities are changing.

The under-35s do not see 1983 as disaster for Labour – they weren’t born then.

For local councillors, juggling social care challenges and housing growth that never seems to be enough to meet demand while annoying Nimbies, some of the navel-gazing of the two main parties may seem remote. But make no mistake, British values have not shifted leftwards overnight. However, for millions the system is not working.

The challenge for local government is to demonstrate how local change can offer solutions that whoever runs Whitehall cannot.

Big ‘system’ changes take time and often fail. Local experiment offers a way out, and in the current uncertain environment is more needed than ever.

Ben Page is chief executive of Ipsos MORI

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