Friday, 15 January 2010

Who's got the power?

According to The Power Gap, a new report from Demos, people in the Guildford constituency are the most powerful in mainland Britain, whilst those in Glasgow North East have the least power to be in control of their own lives. I live in the constituency at 294 in the list of 628. Doesn't sound great, but it is the 3rd most powerful part of the North East region, which illustrates one aspect of the gap the title of the report refers to - some very big regional disparities.

The relative power or powerlessness of people is calculated using 8 indicators, including education, occupational status, income, employment, freedom from crime, health, voter turnout where you live and the marginality of your constituency. So although Stockton South and Stockton North share many socio-demographic factors, the relative marginality of the seat may help explain why Stockton North is much lower at 519 in the index.

The report is an attempt to break through essentially class and deprivation-based analyses of inequality to focus on capability. As they put it 'it is power, not more narrow approaches of income or mobility, that is the critical inequality in Britain. This is the divide that matters to our wellbeing and progress as a nation, and the challenge to which politics and leaders must rise.'

Although I think you could argue the approximate nature of the indicators and the proxies used to measure them could lead to some misleading conclusions, the map looks and feels about right to me. The value of seat marginality is interesting. It's certainly the case party machines will be ignoring people in safe seats in the next few months, and concentrating on those in marginals. This can make you even more powerful if you already have a decent job, education etc. And much less so if your area suffers from multiple deprivation but is unwinnable by anyone but one party. Logic therefore suggests people in, say, Middlesbrough, should make their seats less safe in order to have more influence. (This could, of course, be a risky strategy.)

This matters - and here I agree absolutely with the authors because feeling you have control over your life breeds confidence and virtuous circles, whilst powerlessness leads to anger, depression and spiralling disconnection.

That the arts can sometimes make someone feel more in control of their life, with great positive effects, is a familiar argument, and a thing I've seen in reality many times. I've not had chance to do a detailed comparison, but I suspect from a quick look there is some correlation with arts attendance, albeit complicated by the spread of indicators. The recent figures for national indicators of cultural participation suggest the disparities run roughly parallel, although they are reported on a local authority basis rather than constituency so it hard to compare exactly. There is something in here for someone to mine. We might then look at how building capabilities could impact on participation, and how that may relate to control over one's life, and where the arts can usefully join up with other players. (I'm reminded of the lack of power some people said they felt in relation to the arts in the Arts Debate.)

So, it's worth a look, even just to see how their view of where you live compares to how powerful you feel. There is a nifty little 2 minute video version, too, which you can see above, or here.

1 comment:

artista povera said...

Hmm. Demos vid ends on the sentence: "Power belongs to the people." Tell that to the witnesses being questioned in the Chilcot Enquiry.

I can't help noticing that a lot of the darker patches on the map are places that once had large coalfields and thus held a lot of collective power that was finally destroyed some 17 years ago.

No mention of 'knowing the right people' in the little vid either.

A more interesting series of questions for me is who decides who or what has value, who is seen as valuable, who isn't valued and how does all this affect the values of our society?