Why Labour nearly lost in Heywood & Middleton, and why I’m maybe leaving Labour

October 10, 2014 8 comments

Labour is busy internalising and responding to last night’s near miss in Heywood & Middleton. It’s the usual stuff: we did alright because our vote share went up; we didn’t do alright because we didn’t connect; we must talk about immigration; we must DO SOMETHING.

In all of this, there’s been little mention of the most important bit of any campaign: the candidate.

So let’s focus on Liz McInnes MP, and on how and why she was selected for this safe Labour seat which, had it not been for a superb organising job from the North west regional office, and a lot of activist who smelt the danger and got stuck in on securing just enough turnout, she would have lost.

Liz, who I am sure is a perfectly decent person and with whom I have no truck whatsoever, was selected as part of a stitch-up operation that went wrong, in which Harriet Harman’s chum Miriam O’Reilly was supposed to land the selection. Miriam, if you don’t know, is a television presenter.  I know nothing of her other than that she tweets about having tea with Ed and Justine.

The plan was that Miriam should stand against three relative no-hopers, of whom one had to be fairly local in order to ensure some credibility (perhaps mindful of being caught out in Erith & Thamesmead) This local-but-not-too-local was Liz.  The other two candidates were a councillor from the South of England and a doctor from the other side of Manchester, neither of whom stood an earthly and were shortlisted for that very reason.  Unfortunately for the pro-Miriam plotters, the local party voted for Liz.

This is the tip of the iceberg.

The NEC broke its own rules, by abandoning the normal process for byelections.  These rules require a longlisting process, with a first interview held (in London) to create a shortlist to go forward to the local party.  This was the process set out on the Labour party website until after the selection was complete – with close of application Friday 19th 9am, longlist interviews Monday 22nd, shortlist hustings and selection Tues 23rd.  In fatc, the NEC met on the afternoon of Friday 19th and decided to cut out the longlisting process.

It did so in order to exclude a good number of very strong candidates, who would have presented a big challenge to Miriam in terms of both their track record and what distinctiveness they would bring to the campaign.  Amongst this number were at least two Labour members who are experts in combatting Child Sexual Exploitation, highly relevant to the campaign given the fact that UKIP were bound to, and did, run hard with an overtly racist campaign about the Labour party allowing the rape of white girls by Asian men.

In summary, the NEC colluded in a clear attempt by the party hierarchy to parachute in ‘one of their own’.  In so doing, they exposed the local party and the regional organisers to a campaign fronted by a solid but unspectacular candidate around whom only a weak and locally irrelevant ”save our NHS’ could be generated, and which then relied in sheer doorstep muscle power to squeak home.   This was at the expense of a campaign which could have been distinctive in addressing key issues.

The result might still have been close, whoever the candidate was, but the main point here is that the Labour hierarchy, with NEC collusion, deliberately hijacked the selection process, utterly complacent about the possible disaster that faced them.

This kind of action has no place in our party, and I am – as an associationalist who believe in the development of parallel legitimacy of state and civil organisation, but understands that this is only valid if the rule of law is applied in non-sate organisations –  for the first time seriously considering whether I can remain  a member, especially as this is not the first time in the last 12 months that the NEC has broken the party rules as set down for it by conference, just because it made it easy for the hierarchy.  I have to balance this (Bernard Williams-based) ethical standpoint with my enduring and countervailing utilitarianist leaning, and decide whether the utility of remaining on the party* still outweighs my ‘agential integrity’.

I will decide in the next month or so whether I remain a member.



* I will know within a month as there is one specific project I’m working on which has undoubted social utility and could be enhanced by my ongoing membership.  There ar other projects where not being a member would be an advantage, though less clearly so.


Categories: Labour Party News

Managerialism laid bare

October 8, 2014 1 comment

The government is consulting till tomorrow on what knowledge and skills a modern children’s social worker needs to have to be effective. The draft four page document seeking to summarise what is needed, in a way which is intended inform social work training and professional development in the long term, has been drafted by the Chief Social Worker for Children & Families.

While there is a clear gap around community development skills (the need for which I address here), most of the document is not too bad.  This proposed requirement, though, is very bad:

Operate successfully in a wide range of organisational contexts, including settings undertaking statutory activity, understanding that the success or failure of the social worker depends on the operation of organisations and also in spite of it;

This is the early 21st century spirit of managerialism, par excellence.  The Chief Social Worker* is effectively saying that she recognises that in some/many circumstances the organisation of the whole child protection and family support system militates against effective social work, but that she just doesn’t care; social workers are just going to have to get on with, seeking to do the impossible, sinking or swimming.

Little wonder, when managers abrogate responsibility for the ‘organisational context’ in which workers work in favour of a vague aspiration that somehow, magically, superworkers will allow them to meet their supertargets, that the workers either vote with their feet (as in the 43% social worker vacancy rate in Rotherham), or stick to ticking the boxes.   As Michael Lipsky set out 30 odd years ago:

[W]hat about those who originally aspire to work with a degree of service orientation and are unable to maintain that direction? Whether they drift away from a service ideal or abandon it after a protracted struggle with themsleves or others, the careers of idealistic professional recruits are usually abandoned to processes that insure their socialization to the dominant professional values (p.202-203)

In this case, the dominant professional value seems to be: “I’m Chief Social Worker, and I’m ordering you to succeed.  If you fail, it’s your fault.”  And this, of course, is what many vulnerable families say they experience (pdf) from frontline social workers.  Is it really any wonder?


* I realise it’s a little bit mean to pick on the Chief Social Worker, who is actually a pretty decent person, at least judging by the rest of the skills and knowledge document, but then that’s really the point.  At this point in her text, her basic decency, and real feel for what social workers do, has been overtaken by an decency-consuming managerialist ethos, in which exhortation to agency is at the expense of actually managing the structure.



Categories: General Politics

How will Labour borrow?

September 23, 2014 3 comments

Mark at Labourlist feels let down by Ed Balls’ speech to Labour conference:

He [Balls] appears to have sacrificed “Jobs and Growth” in a capitulation to Tory attacks on Labour’s economic record. The man who once gave the Bloomberg speech has now signed up for Tory spending plans without the crucial wiggle-room of borrowing for capital spending.

There will be no manifesto commitments that borrow to fund capital spending.

Jon at Left Futures feels the same.

I’d feel the same if what Balls said in a speech designed to reinforce the message of ‘economic credibility’ actually meant that there will be no new borrowing to fund capital investment.

But it doesn’t.

For while Balls may have ruled out borrowing via the bond market route, the commitment to a British Investment Bank, set out at conference last year (and possibly this too*), remains.  The Tott report to Labour firms up that commitment and recommends that the main depositor for the new bank should be NS&I, which has about £100bn from savings under its management.

Tott makes the recommendation not least on the basis that it’s a cheaper way to finance spending.

Now you can argue – and I have – that the strategy to deny all borrowing intention is ill-founded, but it’s what Labour has decided to see through to the election.

You could argue too that the NS&I is not enough, though it is a big step on from Autumn 2013 when the deposit was going to be a paltry £1bn from windfall tax, and that turning to local authority and other Pension Funds for direct investment is the next big step in borrowing from ourselves to invest (as opposed to the bond market route for borrowing from ourselves via Pension Funds).

And you could argue that using NS&I to resource capital will mean other uses of the savings pot (the general PBSR) being displaced to elsewhere*.

But you can’t argue, unless you read and retain nothing but the latest speech, that Balls has left no “wiggle room”.

He has, but Labour and/or he prefers him not to talk about that right now.


* What I mean by this is that the Labour Press office ‘check against delivery’ version does have the single commitment line: “A proper British Investment Bank so businesses can get the finance they need.”  However, the Spectator version, with audio recording so I assume a trancsript of the actual speech, excludes that part.  This strengthens my suspicion that the ‘minders’ are ensuring that any reference to additional financing is culled from speeches, while retained in policy documents that only saddos like me read. [Edit Tues 1800hrs: it appears that Chuka has just recommitted to the British Investment Bank]

** There’s not enough clarity in the Tott report (which isn’t very good, to be honest) to take a view on that, and in any event that needs to be seen in the context of other ‘quiet’ borrowing powers of the type set out in June by IPPR, but again widely ignored.



Categories: General Politics

Political garbage

September 20, 2014 1 comment

At 3am on Friday 19th September, hardly a single person in England had given much thought to devolution of power beyond Westminster, or to the West Lothian question.  By the afternoon, the people of England were apparently clamouring for a debate, and politicians were responding urgently.

Utter nonsense, clearly, yet there is a political theory to describe what took place today.   The politicians were rustling around in the garbage.  in Cohen, March and Olsen’s (1972) words, we saw pretty well in real-time

a collection of choices looking for problems, issues and feelings looking for decision situations in which they might be aired, solutions looking for issues to which they might be the answer, and decision makers looking for work.

The fit is perfect not just with Cameron and Miliband, but with a host of journalists and commentators desperately digging around in their trashy old pieces to come up with the solution to the non-problem.

So a quick moment of order, please, before the garbage rustling begins again:

1) Questions of devolution in England are entirely unrelated to what happened in Scotland on Thursday;

2) The West Lothian question is not a question people actually ask, as it doesn’t really affect what happens in people’s lives,

3)  Westminster’s parties, and UKIP, have failed to recognise that constitutional devolution is not the same as devolution of power. By suggesting that it is, and making stupidly rash (Labour) or (cynical) commitments (Tories/UKIP) both parties are embarking on a course remarkably similar to the one followed after 2008.  Then, the financial crisis led to risk and accountability being transferred from the rich to the poor, but no power came with it.  This time around, risk and accountability will be transferred from Westminster to areas beyond Westminster, but without the powers needed.





Reflections on Rotherham: part 3 of 3

September 16, 2014 1 comment

In parts 1 and 2 of this critique of Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation (CSE) I made the case that, while there is a political imperative to regard the report as gospel – reflected in the almost immediate drafting of Jay as specialist adviser into the public inquiry to be chaired by the Lord Mayor of London – the report isn’t actually all that good.  While there is a good level of detail, the analysis is weak in many places, and in relation to “the ethnicity issue” and the question of organisational failure in the council in particular, this weak analysis has created the conditions for a misguided and ultimately counterproductive response to the very real and very growing problem of CSE.

In summary form, Jay a) kowtows, in spite of evidence to the contrary which she herself sites, to the idea that some kind of ‘assault on political correctness’ will be a helpful response; b) fails to take into proper account the failures of managerialism in the 1990s and 2000s, with the result that the response is likely to involve greater managerialism at the expense of what is really needed, which is greater professional autonomy.

There is, though, one other big flaw in the report, and it’s to this that part 3 now turns.   It’s left till last partly because it has not to date even seen as a issue worthy of note, but also because an analysis of it opens the door to actual solutions to the CSE crisis being experienced across the country.

Here’s the key sentence, at para 9.4, describing the approach of Risky Business the voluntary, youth worker-led agency which was financially supported by the Council:

Risky Business adopted an outreach approach, based on community development principles. That is, it started where the young person was; it concerned itself with the whole person and addressed any issues that the young person brought to the relationship; it did not prescribe or direct. Its methods were complementary to those of the statutory services. Its success depended upon the skills of the individual worker and the level of trust which young people were willing to commit to it.

Quite simply, Jay is wrong.  While it seems clear that Risky Business has been an innovative organisation doing some really good work with vulnerable young people, what is described here is not a community development approach; it may be a client-led approach, it may even be validly called an advocacy-based approach, but it’s not an approach which develops the community.

So what is community development, how is it different from what Risky Business do, and why is that important now [1]?

For me, community development is one or more of the following, often interrelated acts:

a) organising with other people so that what comes of our actions is greater than the sum of its parts;

b) organising with other people (the “community”) to develop support structures and ‘fight back’ options for (ex-)vulnerable people, which kick in as and when the state fails or isn’t there ;

c) organising with other people to require that the state changes its systems so that needs are better met;

d) organising with other people to require that the state acknowledge the legitimacy of what you have set up as part of a) and b) with other people, and support it.

Now of course this rough definition can be contested and refined, but what seems clear is that Risky Business wasn’t involved in any of those things, at least in term of its CSE work.  They identified and worked well with vulnerable young people, referred them into the social care system and got appropriately angry/advocational when those young people remained at risk, but they weren’t in the business of organising systems change or community-wide resilience and fight-back.

Jay’s key conceptual mistake, then, is to suggest that community development as a response to CSE was available but untapped by the social care system.  It wasn’t.   But in making this mistake, Jay does unknowingly do us a service, because,  at least to the critical reader, she identifies the space that needs to be filled in future by social work professionals.

This for me, as someone now quite involved in child protection innovation, is the most important challenge which this critical engagement with the Jay report.  The challenge for social workers, and social work educators behind them, is to start to fill the community development space, such that communities themselves generate safer, happier environments for children and young people.

There isn’t space here for a full exposition of the theory and practice of a move by social workers to (re)fill the community development space [2], but the key features I would want to see are:

i) an approach embedded in a coherent theory of practice, based on Sen’s capabilities approach and inclusive of his too often disregarded social choice element, whereby social workers facilitate debate and agreement with local communities about how they come together to achieve their agreed ‘common good';

ii) social workers as unashamed agents for systems change [3], using their ‘all round’ skills and competencies to draw in and motivate not just local people but other agencies, such as Risky Business-style youth workers;

iii) an understanding that, when it comes to CSE, the scale of the problem is not just huge in itself as a result of the societal change I wrote about in part 1 [4] but also because it is linked to a growing trend of inter-child sexual abuse, where girls become vulnerable about their own identity (effectively convinced they are are little more than sexual playthings) even before or as they become exposed to exploitation by adults.   Related to this is the acceptance of and strategies to cope with the fact that the problem is simply too large for their to be anything other than a community-based response;

iv) a strategy for community development which is resolutely race-blind so as to avoid the consequences of social stereotyped responses, but is ‘network alert’ i.e. understands and is able to target the actual networks perpetrators use, irrespective of ethnicity.

v) builds on the best of the Sure Start model in terms of working with local communities as above, but sees the possible locus of action in much wider terms, so that; social choice; agreements, for example, are developed in local retail (and here the union movement will be vital), in and around transport hubs etc.  (here we are talking about child protection in general as well as CSE).  Thus, while it’s good to recognise the work that people like Risky Business have done in training e.g. taxi drivers and dog walkers, we need to recognise that without the community development catalysm integrated into that training, such work will not be very effective.

vi) an acceptance that such a dramatic shift in social work practice will not go unchallenged by those who have a vested interest in creating a new, ‘shallower’ form of social worker who is less interested in the ‘social’, and more in forms of control over ‘troubled families’.



[1] It’s also worth noting, though less crucial a background to what I advocate in terms of a renewed community development approach from social workers, that Jay also talks uncritically of a ‘child protection approach’, adopted by social work teams and in supposed opposition to the community development approach she ascribes to Risky Business.   It’s never actually clear what she means by ‘child protection model’ (para. 9.14) but we can assume she’s referring to the process of risk assessment and intervention that she describes within the report.  I think to call this THE child protection approach is wrong, as it’s just as valid to describe the community development , Sen-based approach as an (effective) child protection approach.

[2] I am currently working on a document for DfE which does exactly that, and may publish a version of it here next month

[3]  I actually prefer the term “institutional architects” but it needs more of a narrative before it’s used more widely.

[4] I now recognise that in setting out these social changes I didn’t refer sufficiently to the phenomenon of male ‘emasculation’ and its connection to a misogynic attitudes.  Reading Phil’s useful piece on Rotherham reminded me of that.

Managing betrayal

September 9, 2014 Leave a comment

A local story, this one, but one which reflects the power of whoever gets to say we should be grateful.

In 2008, we got very excited by the £350m+ redevelopment of Skelmersdale.  The developer told us

This is an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Skelmersdale to deliver a new heart for the town with brand new facilities that will not only benefit everyone who lives, works and visits the town, but also bring in much-needed investment.

It didn’t happen.  House prices fell, you see, so the developer wasn’t very keen anymore.

In 2012, we got excited by the new plans for a £20m investment, with 350 jobs.   St Modwen’s, still the council’s development partner, because the council is shite at contracting, said:

The council’s decision on the planning application brings the vision for the town centre one step closer in the process.  The participation of the local community has really supported the efforts of the partners, who have worked hard to keep the plans alive throughout these challenging times.

How nice of him.

And West Lancashire Borough Council Tory council said:

The regeneration of Skelmersdale town centre will bring huge benefits to everyone in the borough, not just those living in the town.

On 5% of the original deal.  Wow, that was efficient.

It didn’t happen, though.

In 2014, we’re supposed to get excited about a planned £4m investment, bringing 40 jobs.  The new developer says:

The cinema, along with the restaurants and cafes, would be a real boost to the local economy and we hope that we can start work on the complex in the new year.  We’re committed to playing a significant role in the ongoing improvement of Skelmersdale.

Wow, on 1% of the original deal.



Categories: General Politics

Dillow and me

September 8, 2014 2 comments

This amused me mildy:

Chris Dillow, 7th Setpember 2014:

It was not Keynes who convinced capitalists of the need for full employment but Lenin.

Me, 12th September 2009:

[F]ar for being a pro-active economic strategy to bring sustained growth and harmony, Keynesianism was a reaction to the social upheaval of the 30 years leading up to the publication of The General Theory in 1936. As Antoni Negri put it in 1968:

“The October Revolution had once and for all introduced a political quality of subversion into the material needs and struggles of the working class, a specter that could not be exorcised……….Once the antagonism was recognised, the problem was to make it function in such a way as to prevent one pole of the antagonism breaking free into independent destructive action.”

Of course, in Britain it wasn’t simply the October Revolution that gave capitalism enough of the collywobbles to allow Keynesian thinking to emerge into the light of day; in the early 1930s not only will European revolutionary activity have been well in mind, but the effective actions of the Social Democratic Federation in the 1890s would still have been well in memory, just as the violence during the miners’ strikes and at Wapping are etched on the minds, and not a few skulls, of my generation.

But the key point is clear, the strategy of full employment creation through demand push expansion came about because capitalism and capitalists were scared of what might happen if they didn’t pacify the working class.

Chris has always been just that little bit for succinct.  Which I guess is why people read him, not me.

Categories: General Politics

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 126 other followers