So Ed Miliband is now a One Nation Conservative?

Nik Darlington & Alexander Pannett 10.09am

In a speech in London on Friday, Ed Miliband did something quite curious. He tried to emulate Tony Blair.

Mr Miliband’s latest tactic is to call for a “One Nation” approach to banking.

The Labour party leader wants banks to spend less time concentrating on bonuses and more time lending to small businesses and families. He has also called for more transparency and responsibility.

This is a sly attempt to steal the One Nation clothes of conservatism. It is exactly what Tony Blair set out to do when he positioned New Labour as the political “Third Way”, as noted by Nik on these pages last year.

Following a small spate of Blairite defections (see Paul’s cheeky overture), his own brother’s critical epistle, and *that* moment of booing at party conference, it is hard to know what to make of Mr Miliband’s reversion to the Blair political playbook.

If Miliband is going to adopt a truly One Nation approach to banking then he needs to do more than just devise gimmick headlines and populist rhetoric.

His only policy of substance - putting employees on to the remuneration committees of banks - is already in practice in Germany, where they still hand out large bonuses. It is not clear either how he will force banks to lend more to small businesses.

Mr Miliband also fails to understand that One Nation politics is about opening up opportunities and social mobility for the more disadvantaged in society rather than rabble rousing about excessive pay. To this end, the coalition has already stolen a march on him by implementing an innovative new approach to banking - the launch of Big Society Capital.

The Big Society Capital, formerly known as the Big Society Bank, was recently approved by the European Commission and it is hoping to be operational by the end of the first quarter of 2012.

This new bank will use assets in dormant bank accounts to invest in enterprises that provide social value. It will develop an investment market on the basis of positive social impact as well as financial returns. In so doing, the Big Society Capital will boost the ability of social enterprises, voluntary and community organisations to deal with social issues.

Such policies that concentrate on generating real social value, such as the Big Society Capital, are genuinely One Nation approaches to banking. Populist attacks on bonuses may earn some headline kudos but, considering the globalised market that banks operate in, it is not realistic to believe that British banks could compete with uncompetitive remuneration. 

Mr Miliband would do better to have a constructive dialogue with banks about increasing opportunities for small businesses and families rather than slinging invective. But that would require some well-considered policies.

While we thank Mr Miliband for the free publicity, we note that his Tory Reform Group membership fee has not yet been paid. We would kindly ask that he ceases from borrowing our ideas until he has properly been accepted as a member of the group.

And if he asks nicely, we may even lower his joining fee.  

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Renovation Zones could do for skills and social activity what Enterprise Zones promise for economic activity

Paul Marsden 11.29am

The devil makes work for idle hands, so the saying goes. Keep people busy with productive work and activities and their is less chance of crime and general listlessness.

The term “tradecraft” is usually understood to mean a skill acquired in illegal activity. We should turn it on its head and apply it to productive activities. Unlike other community programmes, ‘Trade Craft’ would be mandatory for people who have been unemployed for six months or more. It would also be linked to benefits.

A policy called ‘Tough Learn’ would be worth 30 per cent of current benefits - a taper relief system that avoids removing benefits entirely, and similar to what the coalition government is proposing in its welfare reforms.

It is important not only to provide short-term activities but rather to design projects relevant to long-term community needs. For example, the community centre is run-down and in need of a replacement or a refurbishment, so local people would be hired to achieve these goals. Priority funding could be derived from National Lottery and local government funds and people would work under the supervision and coaching of qualified tradesmen. Training will be linked to real work that benefits the community. In the process, people could gain qualifications in short amounts of time, and then go on to complete further qualifications. Instead of a year or two years of traditional vocational training, people will be ‘upskilling’ in the space of a few months.

Another idea is to provide enthusiastic and entrepreneurial types with a box of tools to help them set up their business, such as registering it, simple guidance on business plans, basic accounting and other business activities - with no cost to that individual. Failure will be expected but we should accept this and keep encouraging people. Not everyone will become the next Richard Branson but that is not the point.

The first time a young person sells their product or service and receives payment in return will inspire them to put in more hours of hard graft and succeed. It gives them self-confidence and belief in an honest living.

Like other policies discussed in previous posts, these Renovation Zone initiatives could easily link up with the Government’s existing policy of Enterprise Zones. The latter are a good step forward for reviving economic activity. Add in the impact of Renovation Zones and you can revive social activity too.

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We need ‘Street Leaders’ to be role models for youngsters in troubled communities

Paul Marsden 11.15am

In part two of the special policy series, Paul Marsden says we need to provide activities for those youngsters failed by the education system.

Children need to grow up in a loving environment, enjoying life and having fun but it is just as important that they understand the boundaries and rules of acceptable behaviour. Children need role models. If none can be found at home, they will find them outside, amongst their peers.

There is little point in building shiny new youth clubs or providing brand new computer suites if there are not enough enthusiastic, talented, youth leaders to coach, mentor and guide young people.

Likewise, the bricks and mortar of a youth centre or similar facility are useless without activities to fill them.

Useful activities should provide youngsters with new skills to support them in life. Activities should also help to improve the local community. Rather than buying a pool table, useful community projects could involve getting young people to community website with videos on people and events in the community. They will learn IT skills and appreciate the value of their local community. The younger that children start activities like this, the better the prospect of them adopting a positive outlook, attitude and civic pride in later life.

Throw down the gauntlet and choose a project on young people’s doorsetps, such as a boarded up shop and encourage them to paint a mural on the shuttering. Offer them recognition by filming their accomplishment for local TV news. Have another group of youngsters use the film equipment and do it themselves so that they can learn film-making skills - producing, editing, uploading to YouTube and reviewing each other’s work.

Leadership is absolutely vital to fostering such an environment and a feeling of belonging in positive ‘circles’. Replace gangs with these circles.

Encourage competitive team sports in these circles too - something that has fallen by the wayside in our schools - such as football, cricket, baseball and basketball.

Instil these circles of youngsters with values such as fairness, respect, tolerance and responsibility. Replace aggressive gang competition with healthy sporting competition.

This is not an easy task but we have to find a way of substituting present after-school activities of street gangs and unproductive behaviour with better options. And I repeat, leadership is vital. The key is to find local leaders who understand their areas, have gained respect from people in those areas, and who have the potential to discover solutions to the area’s problems.

These ‘street leaders’ can be people from all walks of life. They would be an integral part of Renovation Zones, an idea introduced on these pages yesterday.

Street leaders are not gang leaders. They are fundamentally honest people who respect society’s rules. However, no one, irrespective of past mistakes, should be discouraged from becoming a street leader in a Renovation Zone as long as they fulfil those requirements and are the right person for the role.

Street leaders would be offered a small but useful budget for local projects and outcomes would be measured in simple terms such as fewer crimes - especially youth crime.

They will need to receive some coaching themselves and be provided with encouragement and motivation. Mentors of street leaders might include retired police officers, armed forces personnel, youth workers, business people and teachers.

There must not be a ‘formula solution’. Local ideas should be tried and tested. What works in one street might not work in another. Street leaders’ views should be respected and if ideas don’t work there must be encouragement, not blame.

Troubled communities need honest leaders as role models. The young people of those troubled communities need them more than anyone.

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Renovation Zones could breathe life back into Britain’s troubled communities

Paul Marsden 11.25am

Renovation Zones (RZs) should be created and piloted in areas with the highest levels of unemployment, criminality and deprivation.

'Problem' estates in towns and cities are not the only places in Britain that are poor, disadvantaged, rundown and crippled by crime.

But they are the right place to start if this country is seriously to tackle the problem of an ingrained ‘underclass’.

Some people recoil from any kind of finger pointing. They chart complex causes and overwhelm us with the alleged impossibility of the task in front of us. Some demand great swathes of public money to spend on grand projects. Some will seek to spreak the blame across society and target bankers, MPs and the media. Equally, some will point out the unfairness inherent in stop-and-search tactics towards minority populations. Some people urge longer prison sentences and the removal of benefits and housing from looters and rioters. Some urge building youth clubs with pool tables. Some call for corporal punishment.

Instead of hyperventilating about causes and consequences and the same old policy prescriptions, we need quick, decisive, smart intervention to make a difference.

Renovation Zones (RZs) should be created and piloted in areas with the highest levels of unemployment, criminality and deprivation. There is no perfect prescription, so these RZs will need to adapt and evolve. These are the values that must underpin the RZs:

  1. To instil lifelong learning throughout the community.
  2. To keep working age people in work.
  3. To keep young people busy with productive activities and new skills.
  4. To organise projects to look after vulnerable people.
  5. To reudce community carbon emissions and enhance the local environment of landscape, property and streets.
  6. To instil pride and belonging in the local community, British values, history and traditions.

Local communities must discover their own leaders and find their own solutions. With all due respect to hard-working councillors, police officers and social workers, top down control won’t work. Responsibility must be owned and practised by the community itself. A cultural shift is required.

What matters must be what works. There is no national solution underpinning the idea of Renovation Zones. Here are just a few ideas about how they can function to be a positive driver of change.

  • Social Media: Publicise and recognise good work through social media outlets. Empower teams of ‘Street Leaders’ using Twitter or instant messaging services to communicate events and projects, seek new ideas and discover proven methods.
  • Loyalty schemes: These could be sponsored by local businesses. Loyalty schemes can be created cost effectively using QR codes or barcodes rather than physical loyalty cards. Codes could be held on smartphones and allow the collecting of loyalty points for attending events such as parenting classes or renovation projects. These points could be traded for discounts in local shops.
  • Micro-learning: Renovation Zones could be a locus of flexible and innovative learning for people turned off by traditional methods. Short courses and projects should be recognised with certificates and diplomas, according to a national standard.  It is preferable for a young person to attend one day or a few hours of learning, for instance creating a website, which can go towards larger qualifications, rather than setting the bar too high and achieving nothing at all.

Given the economic climate, the RZs cannot incur much additional funding. They must be a cost neutral venture. It has to be recognised that throwing more money at problems is not a panacea and misses the point that real change only occurs when people want it to.

The creation and management of RZs would be the task of ‘Street Leaders’. They could work solo, in partnership with other Street Leaders or alongside local authorities. It would be up to them to establish the best solutions, decide timescales and set budgets.

It is an ambitious idea but if Britain is to repair its Two Nations then ambition is what is required. As a starting point, RZs could be rolled out in the shadow of an existing Government policy: Enterprise Zones.

The possible synergies are beneficial and varied. A new comunity centre could be developed in a disused shop thanks to the quick bypassing of red tape. A Micro-Enterprise Project might secure money to fit super-fast broadband services to permit free Wi-Fi for a local street. Generous tax breaks might permit local building companies to take on young trainees and apprentices, who would assist in building the new community centre. This centre’s address could be used as a registered address for young entrepeneurs starting new businesses. It even could become a local business centre, fostering enterprise and offering training and development.

The opportunities are endless. All that is needed is the courage to try.

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NEW POLICY SPECIAL: How to repair the Two Nations of Britain

Paul Marsden 6.00am

Nearly three thousand people have been arrested since the summer riots. Hundreds have been processed through the criminal justice system. Many have gone to prison for a long time.

Still we are left with a distraught and angry majority, fed up with the bad news coming from the same areas of our towns and cities.

The minority who perpetrated the trouble remain angry with the world and transfixed by instant fame, celebrities and a ‘bling’ culture. They demand respect without earning it. They refuse to tolerate others and live in fear of each other, the police and anyone in a position of authority. That fear is turned into aggression. An aggressive mindset manifests itself in groups - or gangs - of ‘honour’ with their own uniforms, music and language. If they cannot beat the system they beat each other, they rob from local shops and they mug the elderly. Every day there are over 180 acts of anti-social behaviour in the UK.

There is a small, isolated section of British society that despises traditional British society. Two societies. Two nations.

The response of politicians to the riots has been considered and firm but it has been reactive. We must be proactive. The riots present Britain with a real opportunity to turn failed systems upside down. We cannot persist with the status quo.

Britain must bridge the divide between the so-called “underclass” and the rest of society. We need to listen and understand those angry voices. Violence, threats and law-breaking are not ways to break a conflict. Dialogue is the only way to affect meaningful change.

In 1845, Benjamin Disraeli, a future Conservative Prime Minister, wrote his seminal novel Sybil, or the Two Nations. It is a story about the worsening poverty in Britain’s industrial towns and cities and the gulf between rich and poor. Its male lead, Charles Egremont, gave his name to these pages. In Sybil, Egremont undergoes a Damascene conversion from louche layabout aristocrat to passionate investigator of that widening divide between people like him, and people like the Chartists.

We now face a more subtle divide in this country. The divide is no longer between rich and poor but rather between people who generally respect others in society and those who generally rebel against society. The growing tension spilled over into violence and looting this summer and it could do so again. We need practical solutions, now.

Over the coming days, I will describe a range of solutions and policies that could be put in train right away, broadly around four themes.

'Renovation Zones' to improve skills, restore faith in communities and get people working again. Reward responsibility and loyalty.

Accelerate the removal of entrenched obstacles in our education system. Reinstate and augment the traditional factors that work, and remove the ones that don’t. Replace them with greater flexibility, particularly micro-learning.

Regenerate communities through real leadership. Replace the gang structures with street leaders who are outside the political system but inside communities.

Carry out meaningful and lasting prison and justice reform, centred around a rehabilitation revolution.

Together, they form a programme of renovation - a programme to repair the Two Nations of Britain.

Visit Egremont tomorrow for the first instalment on ‘Renovation Zones’.

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Paul Marsden was a Member of Parliament for eight years between 1997 and 2005. He was elected as Labour MP for Shrewsbury & Atcham on a crest of Blairite hope and promise but went on to oppose Labour’s foreign policy after 9/11 when he rebelled against the war in Afghanistan. In December 2001, he crossed the floor to join the Liberal Democrats. In 2002, he was appointed a shadow health minister responsible for mental and prison health, and highlighted the dramatic increase in suicide rates among prison populations. In 2005, he was disillusioned with the Liberal Democrats and became the first MP since Winston Churchill to re-cross the floor of the House of Commons, prior to retiring from Parliament at that year’s General Election.

Following stints as chief executive of a trade association and an educational charity, Paul Marsden is an international business consultant working in the UK and Brussels.