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The relational state: How recognising the importance of human relationships could revolutionise the role of the state

identity, political ideas, progressive politics, public services, reform

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The purpose of this collection is to introduce and discuss the idea of the ‘relational state’ – a new intellectual and political perspective on statecraft and the public services.

Sparked by the financial crisis and subsequent recession, the centre-left is locked in a serious debate about the core tenets of its political economy. It is striking, however, just how little discussion there has been in relation to the purpose and role of the state in general – and public services in particular.

The impetus for the ‘relational state’ is rooted in its critique of the 'new public management' model and, in particular, the dominant statecraft of the last Labour government. However, the nature and depth of this critique varies across the authors in this collection: some argue that its edges need to be smoothed off and its core methods redirected towards different, more relational, goals. Others mount the case for more fundamental change, affecting both the aims and practices of public services and the state. There is also consensus on the need for human relationships to be given greater priority as a goal of policy and in the design and operation of public services, which challenges a strict adherence to egalitarian goals and state-led agency above all others.

There is both shared ground and sharp disagreement among those who are interested in advancing the concept of the relational state. This collection aims to kickstart thinking through two essays from leading political theorists – Geoff Mulgan and Marc Stears – who introduce their distinctive ideas about the relational state, followed by a series of short responses which critique and advance their arguments in a number of different directions.

Section 1: Context

  • Graeme Cooke and Rick Muir – The possibilities and politics of the relational state

Section 2: Vision

  • Geoff Mulgan – Government with the people: the outlines of a relational state
  • Marc Stears – The case for a state that supports relationships, not a relational state

Section 3: Perspectives

  • Nick Pearce – Under pressure: the drivers of a new centre-left statecraft
  • Duncan O’Leary – Sure Start and the dilemmas of relational politics
  • Hilary Cottam – From relational ideas to relational action
  • Axel Heitmueller – Relational reality: citizen-centred healthcare
  • Tess Lanning – Power games: shaping a more democratic relational state
  • Jon Wilson – Set our schools free: a relational approach to education
  • Jon Stokes – The psychology of the relational state
  • Tessa Jowell – The relational state: a revolution in the making
 
 

Our people

Rick Muir, Associate Director for Public Service Reform

Nick Pearce, Director

Graeme Cooke, Research Director

Marc Stears, Associate Fellow

 

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