The ippr journal, Public Policy Research, has its latest edition out looking at power with pieces by David Miliband, Andrew Gamble and others, and I've contributed a piece on the governmentality of New Labour. Introducing Foucault to a policy audience is a slightly perverse thing to do, and liable to create hostility and misunderstanding, but I've tried to draw on the Foucaultian understanding of power to demonstrate aspects of New Labour policy that I think are liable to fail even on their own terms.
In summary, my argument is as follows (email me if you'd like the full piece). Foucault demonstrates that governmental strategies of power have to pull in two directions at once. As the liberal state has shrunk over the past 200 years, opening up a new space of 'civil society' and 'economy', so a variety of governmental strategies have to extend into that space in order to regulate and produce it, such as welfare services, professional expertise, accounting standards and so on (this is the core claim of all governmentality research). Hence, although sovereign powers of violence become more restrained, governmental powers of calculation and control become more widespread. Foucault himself says nothing about whether this is good or bad, but simply maps it historically.
What I've argued in this piece is that New Labour's community-oriented, double devolution agenda starts to reverse this process. Because the creation of community is not a scientific project, there are very few governmental, calculative processes available to govern it through; there are no expert networks (give or take the odd social capital analyst) who will be able to produce community to the extent that Labour hopes, and so this policy becomes heavily dependent on traditional sovereign powers of surveillance and violence, that is, the police.
I conclude with what I thought was quite a neat analogy:
At present it is difficult to conceive of power being decentralised, especially in cities, without the constant presence of the state’s disciplinary and coercive functions. Marxists always believed that the passage from capitalism to communism would have a transitory totalitarian phase – ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ – before power was devolved to workers councils, and the state would ‘wither away’. The Soviet Union proved unable to move out of this transitory phase. Will double devolution suffer an analogous obstacle, with communities never quite able to wean themselves off the supporting hand of sovereign powers? One solution to this is to include a more radical devolution of police and judicial powers to the community, a communitarian measure that might prove too illiberal for this government.