When Peter Mandelson returned to government during the final years of the last Labour administration, he outlined a new policy approach that had been missing from British politics for decades. The phrase he coined to describe this was "industrial activism". Overdue, essential and exciting, this policy approach was right then and it is right now. To distill this policy to its essence, Mandelson meant that economic growth and recovery, with all of the social good that this brings, cannot be done by governments alone. This is a familiar refrain, but what Mandelson was beginning to articulate - and what every politician in the country must surely and painfully recognise - is that the capability and capacity of the state to make succesful market interventions is weaker than it has ever been, and for any recovery to take hold then market leaders, if not the markets themselves, must adopt a more philanthropic approach to the conduct of their business. This will come to be seen as a watershed analysis as governments across the political spectrum rush to develop rafts of new policy ideas with which to either curb or change the impact of globalisation upon modern nation states.
But where are these market leaders prepared to lead the charge of industrial activism? Step forward Bill Gates, a man who has decided to use his unprecedented levels of wealth to save lives and build communities, instead of hacking phones.
Gates spoke to a Parliamentary Labour Party meeting earlier this week, and told the assembled MPs that "this party has a lot to be proud of". As Labour spirits soared, Gates reminded us that these issues are best served without "partisanship" before explaining his definition of "government philanthropy" and what the limits of markets and governments are.
Government philanthropy, it would appear is the mirror image of industrial activism. According to Gates, "governments can't remain neutral...they have to make choices and pick winners." For progressives, a clear picture emerges; if we want to see industrial activism then we have to be prepared to influence and shape, not simply regulate and observe. To listen to one of the greatest figures of the late 20th and early 21st century is a rare privilege. But to contrast the apparent inability of governments to solve our ongoing, deepening economic malaise in practical and policy terms with the determination, purpose and success of a billionaire philanthropist poses a defining conundrum for current politicians, left or right.
Jamie Reed is the Labour MP for Copeland