big state, little state

A couple of weeks ago John Harris wrote his first interesting column in the Guardian for who knows how long.

In it he tackles the massive growth in centralised state power over the last few decades and how Labour and Tories alike have been responsible, and he counterposes that with the sort of politics argued for by the likes of Compass.

The article is one of many over the last few years from centre left  and centre right commentators of all hues (from Progress, to the Greens, to Philip Blond and Zac Goldsmith, to those to the left of Labour) and people from outside the mainstream.

What many of them have ignored is that one of the core reasons society is not because of some inherent nature of the state to accrue more power to itself irrespective of what people want, but it’s because people and state organisations that want to take advantage of new technology are not being effectively challenged by self organised, self confident, empowered citizens. It doesn’t matter how many appeals are made to the next Government, it doesn’t matter what influence the Libdems have (other than their diminishing ability to provide a liberal cover to any coalition they’re part of) the state will continue to use new technologies and excuses in order to monitor us. Not out of malevolence but because it can.

We will certainly not be saved by Edward Snowden or Julian Assange. We will only be able to mount an effective campaign against it if enough people feel genuinely threatened by it, and feel they have the ability and collectivity to take enough power to hold those aspects of the state to account.

John Harris mentions credit unions rightly as a good example of small scale working and he is right – but what distinguishes them in the main from banks is that enough people in a given area felt strongly enough about the need for a credit union, and felt they had the tools, and the support to build one. They didn’t wait for legislators to listen to media commentators, indeed they didn’t wait for the law to be changed as it has been by the current Government to make things easier for them. They started organising themselves and then put pressure on the Government, backed up by evidence of their ability – their power to adapt to the changed reality; IE: that credit unions were a real, working thing.

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