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A Left Trilemma

A Left Trilemma

Peter Taylor-Gooby

28 March 2012


Progressive public policy in the age of austerity

Why is it so hard for the left to produce a coherent and progressive response to the crisis, when market neoliberalism has so obviously failed? This new Policy Network paper argues that the British Labour party and other European left-of-centre parties are caught-up in a public policy trilemma.

The left must respond adequately to the economic crisis to be seen as competent, it must address the established themes in public opinion to be electable, and it must develop generous and inclusive policies, to be progressive.

The paper identifies conflicts in all three areas:

• Low public sector productivity growth and demographic shifts tighten already harsh spending constraints.
• Entrenched public suspicions of higher taxes for any but the distant rich and a public discourse which makes rigid distinctions between those who are deserving and undeserving of state welfare conflict with egalitarian or redistributive policies.
• Both spending constraints and the key themes in public opinion conflict with generous and inclusive policies.

In reviewing a range of policy programmes, A Left Trilemma reflects on the tough choices facing social democrats if they are to shift public discourse in a more supportive direction.

About the Author

Peter Taylor-GoobyPeterTaylor-Gooby is professor of social policy at the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research.

A Left Trilemma is the latest in a series of Policy Network pamphlets, which includes The Next British Centre-Left, In the Black Labour, Cameron’s Trap and Southern Discomfort Again, that encourage debate over the necessary economic and political strategy required to give the centre-left new purpose and vision.

Tags: Peter Taylor-Gooby , Trilemma , Labour , social democracy , public policy , economic competence , public opinion , progressive , austerity , inclusive

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