It is a truth universally acknowledged that the government is making a complete mess of Brexit, but behind that observation lie two others, which for now, go largely unremarked while Brexit consumes the attention of Westminster and Whitehall. The first is that the government is making a complete mess of quite a lot of things, and the second is that the effectiveness of the levers the government has—and through which it can seek to achieve change in our country—seems to be much less than in the past. The British state seems at once less able to deliver on its priorities, even when they are largely organisational and administrative, and less able to effect transformation in our wider society and economy than even ten years ago.
To me, these observations raise a set of questions about the ability of the next Labour government to use the state to deliver transformative change, questions to which I think we will need strong answers long before we gain power. Those questions are primarily about how we understand and how we plan to use the power of the British state to reshape our society; and whether the answers that were right in the past will be right in the future. I do not mean that we should embark on developing a written constitution, or fiddling with the House of Lords, or making further changes to the existing devolution settlements for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland—though all those policies will have their advocates.
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