This will be the year of the intrusive, oppressive state. Obviously, this will not much distinguish it from 2013, 2012 or 2011. But still: Fundamental issues of government and its reach into our lives are now bubbling away as never before and may well reach boiling point over the next 12 months.

The fallout from Edward Snowden’s revelations goes on: In the US, the latest stories concern a National Security Agency (NSA) programme aimed at breaking all forms of digital encryption, while the debate about legislating to curtail surveillance powers rages. Here, by contrast, there is something jaw-dropping about how little the three main UK parties have to say. Britain has blazed a trail for the collection of enormous amounts of personal data, with a blase attitude proving that the prospect of any oversight has been far from the thoughts of those in charge. But aside from such Lib Dems as Julien Huppert and Vince Cable, and the Conservatives’ David Davis and Dominic Raab, who speaks out?

If you doubt this, consider what the essential functions of the modern state look like to any politicised person under 30. The state comes to the rescue of banks while snatching away benefits. It strides into sovereign countries and commits serial human rights abuses. It subjects doctors, nurses and teachers to ludicrous targets. It watches us constantly via CCTV and hacks our email and phone data. It farms out some of its dirtiest business to private firms. This is not a vision of modern government invented by the current lot: In Britain, it decisively came to life — thanks to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Whether knowingly or not, they demonstrated an essential truth: That contrary to the vanities of the “free market”, neoliberal capitalism needs the big centralised state to clear its way and enforce its insanities.

In December last year, I closely followed an upsurge of protest on university campuses across the UK and spoke to some of the young people involved. They were socialists, to all intents and purposes. They wanted a more equal society and an education system oriented around something higher than the idea of maximising their earning potential. But they had no illusions about how much of their focus was on the clunking fist of state power: Their recurrent cry was “Cops off campus” and they testified to such ingrained parts of modern university life as spot checks on foreign students by police and Border Agency personnel and the bonds that tied the cops to private security contractors. They were all experts on the surveillance state. Moreover, they are part of a generation whose meetings have no platform speakers, who insist the world should take on the horizontal characteristics of social media. The big state, whatever purposes it is put to, is anathema to them.

In orthodox politics, there are occasional flashes of recognition of how much we need to tame and then radically remodel, government. Localism, when it actually amounts to something coherent, is part of the noise. So is the big society and the radical ideas about the devolution of power that Jon Cruddas is trying to bring to the Labour party. If you want a flavour of the journeys that need to be taken, have a look at Compass: Once broadly aligned with the Brownite wing of Labour but now a breeding ground for a new kind of creative, non-hierarchical, left politics. You know the signs of something different when you see them: If you are in the right company, people talk passionately about housing cooperatives, local poverty projects and sustainability initiatives and credit unions. They want the revival of local councils. Crucially, they also argue for what is missing from the left’s agenda: A cutting down of the surveillance state, exacting oversight of the security services and strict limits on data collection.

None of this is an argument for anarchism or the stupid form of Tory politics, which believes that so long as public spending can be pushed below a certain share of gross domestic product, liberty will be assured. It is not intended to overlook what only the state can do: Redistribute income; confront corporate power; forge the international agreements we need to fight everything from climate change to corporate tax avoidance. But there is no argument for extending those truths into the kind of boundless leviathan that Britain has ended up with. The truth is that the arrogant, centralised state is as much of a problem as the out-of-control market and the dominion of one is symbiotically related to the tyranny of the other. From that, all else follows. The future politics of the left will either be pluralist, localist and libertarian, or it will shrivel.

 Gulf News.