The New Power Project
The New Power Project was established by Labour Together and Compass to establish how
Labour can transform its approach to power – what it is and how the party’s relationship to it.
“Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the
powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven”
New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and
peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it
surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.”
In a book called New Power written back in 2015, Jeremy Heimass and Henry Timms argue that
what they call ‘new power’ (also often referred to as networked power, communication power or community power) is neither good nor bad, but it is becoming an important part of how our world is organised. The rapid transmission of new ideas becomes a new source of power, and the more open and accessible that is, the more power is shared. Information flows through networks rather than just from institutions. The power of these networks can be used for good and are harnessed in movements like #BlackLivesMatters and #MeeToo- or it can also be populist and feed into conspiracy thinking like QAnon. They argue that the most important challenge for our society is to explore what happens when ‘new power’ meets ‘old power’ and how to harness the positive energy of these networks, while preventing them from bypassing the safeguards built into older institutions.
The Labour Party was formed by working people to take power and create a more equal society. To our party’s founders, that did not just mean parliamentary representation, it included the collective power of trade unions, working men’s clubs, friendly societies and co-operatives.
Labour has often prioritised state power over this ‘power building’ part of our movement. But an over-powerful state can become oppressive, not least in the hands of a Conservative government. We can look to the history of our movement to find ways of putting power directly into the hands of people so they can shape the lives they want to live and the communities they are part of. Power, if it’s not to become oppressive, must be bottom-up as well as top-down. Too many injustices in our society are linked to an inequality of power in our workplaces, our economy and our politics.
The New Power project will bring together everyone in the labour movement who believes we can build a fairer society by tackling the inequalities of power that hold so many people back and allow inequality to grow. We want to explore new ways to give people a real voice and the power to use it in the workplace, in their communities, and over the public services they use. The project will feed into the shadow cabinet’s policy renewal work and can help shape the agenda for the next Labour government.