Young Fabians Chair James Potts reviews Shadow secretary of state for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Lisa Nandy's new book, All In.
Lisa Nandy is known for her defence of community and local people. Indeed, she made it a key part of her pitch to be Labour leader in 2020. This is why it is so good to see her vision captured in written form in her book All In. This rally call highlights the challenges we face as a country through the prism of community and how, despite the odds, a real difference can be made if we work together. Community is something many people believe has diminished in recent decades. Nandy makes this point throughout the book.
Nandy dedicates an early chapter to cover the global issues at play over recent decades that have marked an end to certainty, which she then links to the situation more locally in the UK. Big issues like the response to Covid-19, the Climate Crisis, Brexit and the technological challenges which affect our work are all explored as factors which have all challenged our way of life in recent years and on a daily basis.
Most interesting was Nandy pointing out how, typically, our western discourse focuses on the 1980s when the US and the UK shifted to the right which signalled the end of the Post-War Consensus and the beginning of the current capitalist system. However, throughout the book, Nandy also includes the opening up of the Chinese economy at this time as a factor which has shaped recent decades. This inclusion helps us understand these changes in a more global context and is welcome.
Zooming in on the UK, Nandy talks about how despite the populist rhetoric of the media and social media, underneath that hubris there is a “quiet patriotism” and an “invisible chain” which binds us together as a society. Indeed, those divisions that are sowed by the right play on the fact that the system no longer works. Nandy identifies a deep disconnect between politicians and their communities which has fuelled apathy with our system. Plus she also picks up on the economic decline which has meant young people got out to get on from their hometowns. She also rightly points out the current meritocratic mantra of capitalism is flawed. The idea that by working hard you can achieve no longer rings true in the way it did.
There is also a great deal of focus on how things which make a community are now often commodities to be bought and sold by the super-rich, most notably football clubs and trains but also buses, the post office and the energy and water companies. Indeed, the introduction of the book goes into detail on how she and the community fought to save Wigan Athletic when they went into administration in 2019 after being taken over.
However, the book also highlights stories where the community came together to fight for a better area, from the local pub to the hospital porters, demonstrating that despite the negativity and doomsayers, the fabric of community is still there lying underneath the hot air of our divisions. While it is somewhat frayed, with a bit of work it can be repaired, Nandy believes.
Her vision shows how by empowering communities, a better society will build itself. This includes a focus on the climate crisis and how the transition to greener power offers an opportunity to rebuild communities. For example, she mentions how in Grimsby wind power is bringing in high paid, skilled jobs which is sparking a revival for a town which voted heavily to Leave in the EU Referendum.
According to Nandy, hoarding power in Whitehall has, for too long, been the main stumbling block for so many areas of policy. Meaningful devolution, such as greater financial autonomy, would mean a government that is also “with the people” and not just of, by and for, to add to the famous quote by Abraham Lincoln. This would aid in resetting society and bringing it together. Which is why her conclusion is a rallying call for two important steps - giving local communities more powers, and more involvement from those communities in decisions that affect them.
Nandy’s book is an excellent assessment of the challenge we face to bring people back together, reviving a tradition that goes to the heart of our social values but it is more than possible if the right political choices are made. The Labour Party would do well to listen to this vision for the future and I hope this call is at the forefront of the next manifesto.
James Potts is Chair of the Young Fabians. He tweets @JamesPotts.