Reviewed by Hannah Hiles
Somewhere, in a parallel universe in which Michael Meacher (New College, 1958) won the 2007 Labour leadership contest, the world is quite a different place.
Manufacturing is on the up; the elite ruling classes are losing their stranglehold on power; the banks are increasingly accountable to the public. In that world, climate change is being addressed, adult social care is a free universal service, and the super-rich are helping to wipe out national debt through greater taxation.
But could this ever really happen? Somewhat overshadowed at the Labour Party conference on its release by Damian McBride’s Power Trip, Meacher’s The State We Need sets out a vision for the future of Britain which blows apart the status quo and ushers in a brave new world of social mobility and democratic accountability.
Meacher, who studied Literae Humaniores (aka Greats) at Oxford, says he was prompted to write this book by the sheer banality of today’s politics. Frustrated by the dominance of spin and manipulation, he decided to take a stand and suggest solutions to the fundamental problems facing Britain today.
The MP for Oldham West and Royton – first elected in 1970 – seeks to replace today’s neo-liberal capitalism with what he terms “national interest capitalism”. The former, he says, is failing the people of Britain — economically, socially, environmentally, and, interestingly, spiritually — leaving the majority of us in a confused, cynical mess. Mired in a century of industrial and manufacturing decline, the country has, he argues, found itself lagging behind its economic competitors and struggling to recover after the crash.
Despite his own background of educational privilege, which takes in Berkhamsted School, the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics, Meacher singles out private education as a stumbling block in the creation of a more socially cohesive and successful society.
Bringing to mind The State We’re In (1995) by Will Hutton, now principal of Hertford College, The State We Need tackles business, banking, energy, employment, welfare, social inequality and the environment, all complemented with facts and figures to back up Meacher’s arguments. It’s certainly thoroughly researched and contains plenty of quotable factoids, such as the 2010 Sutton Trust survey, which found that pupils from private schools are 55 times more likely to get a place at Oxbridge than poorer state school pupils.
“Above all”, writes Meacher in his introduction, “I hope that this book may lend inspiration to those who instinctively know that a better world is possible, but who may not yet understand how that can be brought about.” One wonders whether Ed Miliband has read The State We Need and, if so, what he makes of it – and whether there would ever be an appetite to make some of the radical changes proposed.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether his view of a better world could ever truly be put into practice — or indeed what would happen if it was.