Friday 20 August 2010

Labour's trap

An interesting leader article in The Times this week, "Friends, not flatterers" which comments on the Labour leadership campaign and the failure of all candidates to address the concerns of people generally, as opposed to members of the Labour Party.

They comment that the two leading candidates, Ed and David Miliband have "developed policy manifestos that involve preaching to the choir".

Policies that are based on appealing to core voters only, as Ed appears to be proposing in his literature, will not win elections.

As that great columnist Phil Collins writes, "the trouble with the leadership race is that it is all so last century. It's all very Walking with Dinosaurs..."

But what is particularly unwelcome is that candidates seem to want to return the Labour Party to a reactionary "State is best" approach to public services. In their reactions to Cameron's Big Society they are in danger of alienating the third sector and taking Labour back to the days when they treated the voluntary sector as marginal, and often inferior; good at raffles but not to be trusted with the delivery of core services.

You hear echoes of this in remarks about "we don't want a return to the days when people had to rely on charity". This patronising approach both insults the sector and ignores the fact that service delivery through a customer and client focused sector provides both a better and more cost effective service.

There is practically nothing at all in any candidates' literature about their policy towards the sector or public service reform. Indeed the opposite: there are dangerous nods to the role of public sector unions who we know are antagonistic to the sector's role.

There can be no rowing back on the need to radically increase the third sector's role in delivering services. There can be no return to State is best.

The core task for Government now is to get better performance from services that are shrinking. There is a coherent and compelling argument for shifting delivery of services to the third sector; better and user centred service as well as more cost efficient. No candidate is willing to argue that; cowed by the union vote. But real leadership is brave and forward looking, not grubbing for policies that don't scare the horses.

The failure of any candidate to make a coherent critique of Big Society beyond the juvenile "it's a cover for cuts" line and a head in sand approach to the deficit is depressing.

I am surprised particularly by Ed Miliband's reluctance to support the sector. As the country's first Third Sector Minister he has a particular duty to spell out a policy on public services, and to promote our role. He should be championing our delivery role, not pandering to union prejudice.

I was one of the earliest to predict a bright future for Ed as a future PM. An early Blog bears evidence. But Ed, you must do better. And if you win let's see you show leadership; and not just for the Labour Party or its core voters.

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