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.
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.
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 ?
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 , 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 , 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  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’.
 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.
 I am currently working on a document for DfE which does exactly that, and may publish a version of it here next month
 I actually prefer the term “institutional architects” but it needs more of a narrative before it’s used more widely.
 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.
Introduction to part 2
In part 1 of this critical engagement Professor Alexis Jay’s report on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham, the focus was mainly on the factors which drove the upsurge in CSE in the late 1990s and 2000s, rather than the council’s and other agencies’ response to that upsurge. Clearly, though, the way in which those ‘external’ factors took effect during the period had an effect on the appropriateness, or otherwise, of the response by those agencies.
In part 1, I made two main points in particular about the weaknesses in the Jay report in respect of these factors. Here in part 2, I’ll expand somewhat on the implications of these, and of how the reports interprets them, before moving on to the ‘internal’ institutional dynamics of the agencies response to CSE, and will again suggest that the analysis by Jay is inadequate, and indeed potentially counterproductive at a national level, given her new role as adviser to the public inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse announced in July.
In part 3, I’ll move on to what I think is the biggest conceptual flaw in the Jay report – the failure to grasp what community development actually is – and I’ll finish with an assessment of what does actually need to be done to stop and prevent the growth of CSE (and child abuse more generally), and offer some suggestions on how we might move in that direction. Needless to say, these suggestions won’t involve manadatory reporting, which is at best a distraction, or fabricating evidence so that staff can be disciplined, as the MP for Rotherham is now apparently suggesting. Sadly, Labour has been utterly useless in its response so far, and this is my attempt to help it respond better, before it is too late.
Ethnicity and political correctness
In part 1 I suggested that the report lacked the courage of some of its convictions about the “issue of ethnicity” (as one of the report chapters is entitled), with Jay going to lengths to say that ethnicity cannot possibly be seen as a predictor of child abuse perpetration, before backtracking and accepting that future work to combat CSE may have to confront ‘cultural issues’. I then set out an alternative way of approaching the matter, in a way that not only allows for a ‘race-blind’ approach to tackling CSE, but which is actually more effective because it is race-blind i.e. it is not caught up by extraneous issues of ethnicity, but focuses on the actual material circumstances which are predictive of CSE .
This is important stuff because, if we accept that race-blind intervention to stop and then prevent CSE is not only possible but more effective than ethnicity-focused intervention , much of the criticism, itself based in the report on little more than hearsay, that police, council staff and councillors betrayed children because they weren’t courageous enough to ‘take on political correctness’ – becomes an irrelevance.
Maybe, just maybe, the managers and councillors were correct in their approach. Maybe, just maybe, being politically correct can be correct in terms of lived outcomes as well as votes.
That’s not to say that sending the Home Office researcher off on diversity training course for using the word ‘Asian’ in a report was the correct thing to do; this does sound cack-handed, as it is pretty well impossible to imagine a Home Office researcher into CSE having anything other than a good understanding of diversity issues, and therefore open to a reasonable debate, based on the kind of evidence I produced in part one about circumstance being the overriding predictor, about whether her approach was reasonable. Her mistreatment, though, may have more to do with the dominant masculine managerialism referred to in the Jay report (and which I analyse below) than with the fact that she was right and they were wrong about the fundamentals of the best way to tackle the CSE epidemic.
Maybe it was the other way round. Maybe the managers were right. Maybe she was wrong.
Let”s be blunt, then. Even though the report hedges it is bets – “Recommendation 14 reads: The issue of race should be tackled as an absolute priority if it is a significant factor in the criminal activity of organised child sexual abuse in the Borough)” – this very hedging means that the media and popular reaction to the report has focused on the need to overcome political correctness and focus on ethnicity a way to prevent further abuse.
The Jay report may therefore end up doing children currently being exploited and at risk of exploitation more harm than good.
The perfect storm: external meets internal
Also in part 1, suggested that a key weakness in the Jay report – though this may have more to do with the terms of reference and timescales than Jay and her team’s own capacities – is the failure to assess why the incidence of CSE has risen. My own answer to this question is linked to the argument above about circumstance over ethnicity, and argues that the rise of mobile and social media technology, plus the easy availability of internet porn as a progressively misogynsing factors [link to Us article], creates both the ‘motivation’ and opportunity to develop exploitative techniques. Jay’s relative failure to assess the surge in incidence feeds into the over-emphasis on ethnicity. It also incidentally allows her a route out of commenting properly on the horribly inequitable funding of the council as a whole; while she notes the 33% loss of spending power in Rotherham in comparison with 4.8% in Buckinghamshire (para 12.14) , there is no recommendation as to what might be done about such clear inequity.
But this is just one part the ‘perfect storm’ that hit those principally and statutorily responsible for protecting children – frontline social workers. The other factors which hit children’s social care staff in the crucial period were understaffing – I’m not sure how any council department might be expected to operate with a vacancy rate of 43% (para 12.2) – and the rampant managerialism which took hold of public services delivery in the 1990s and 2000s.
I should be clear what I mean by managerialism, a term not used in the Jay report itself but which I use here to reflect the kind of events she describes (but doe not fully analyse) in her report.. I mean the ideologically-motivated assumption that if public services (indeed services of any kind) are subject to improved management targets and controls, then the quality of that services is bound to improve. This assumption, as Chris Dillow has set out on his blog and in his fine book New Labour and the folly of managerialism is wrong, not least because what may be gained through ‘efficiencies’ is lost through diminished professional/worker autonomy.
This we can see from the Jay report, is precisely what happened in Rotherham in the 2000s. The account at paras 6.21-6.24 about how social worker time was remorselessly squeezed away from both preventative and vital followup work is not just an account of understaffing. When I asked frontline social workers in my area about this section, they actually burst out laughing at the idea that there might not have been downward pressure to increase “throughput” (the beautifully managerial term used by Jay at para. 6.23); of course frontline professionals would deny that they had submitted to such pressures, they told me, as that would make them look unprofessional in the eyes of Jay’s team (and therefore open to disciplinary measures for loss of professional standards), but of course they will have submitted to pressures – how, if there were no such pressures, would have the question of such pressure have arisen in the first place?
Perhaps even more revealingly, Jay covers the role played by Barnardo’s in the removal of professional autonomy, through the introduction of a “numeric scoring system” (para 6.38). Jay detiails how, while managers may claim otherwise in their interviews (again, understandably in the view of possible sanctions), frontline social workers make it quite clear that there was little room for them to exercise professional judgment and override the scoring system where they felt the scoring was underplaying the actual risk at which children found themselves.
Again, I asked experienced children’s social workers, with whom I come into contact for me work, what they thought of these paragraphs in the Jay report (they had not read the report at that stage, so I paraphrased Jay but referred specifically to the Barnardo’s scoring system, which is well-known and in widespread use. These colleagues answered to the effect that the Barnardo’s scoring model is deficient not just because it doesn’t, of itself, allow for professional judgment alongside the scoring, but that professional judgment is actively excluded by the insistence on the need, within the scoring process, for concrete evidence.
The (recent) example I was given of a teenage girl who had been found by police (involved in other crime detection work) on an edge-of-town caravan park, miles from home, and in a place unfamiliar to her family. There was no evidence that she was on that night subject to sexual exploitation and so, despite the putting of two and two together by social workers, the risk assessment as scored downplayed a risk obvious to pretty well everybody involved in the case.
It is not always thus. One of the local authorities that my work connects with had looked at the Barnardo’s mode in the mid-2000s and, because they remained open to some real frontline social worker interaction, had chosen not to go with the ‘best practice’ Barnardo’s model, but instead asked frontline social workers to develop their own model for standardised assessment.
What to make of all this? Well, the first thing to mention is the level of control that Barnado’s, a voluntary sector organisation dominated by a controversial Chief Executive, appear to have had not only over Rotherham but across a swathe of local authorities in England. While a voluntary organisation in legal definition, Barnardo’s size and capacity to undercut smaller organisations and in-house provision, combined with its clever marketing means that it has become something of an untouchable. Even here, where the finger has been pointed at Barnardo’s for the introduction of a scoring model which is demonstrably not ‘best practice’, or even good practice, the (otherwise very good) Rotherham Council response to the Jay report continues to refer to it in these hallowed terms, and to make clear that it use will continue. Here is not the place to delve in detail into the relationship between Barnardo’s (and its arc-rival NCH) and the state, but it is worth stressing that if you are going to act effectively as an arm of the state, then you really need to be held to the same standards as the state. On this occasion, at least, this hasn’t happened.
The second, broader, point to make about this section of the Jay report is that, while Jay set out well the way frontline social worker were subject to managerialist influences to the detriment of their professional judgement , she probably fails to reach the correct conclusions on the basis of these findings. Instead of pointing out how the managerialism which spread across local authorities in the 1990s and 2000s at the expense of professional autonomy – some of this because of contracting out to bodies like Barnardo’s – may have caused the practice failures she uncovers, Jay instead opts for another broad explanatory factor: the aggressive. ‘macho’ culture which dominated the council in the same period. Yet no direct link is apparent between this macho culture and poor practice outcomes for children.
It seems to me that a more indirect explanation is brought forward while an indirect one is ignored, either because it is inconvenient or – I suspect more likely – the idea that managerialism night be a problem lies beyond Professor Jay’s conceptual paradigm of how a local authority should operate. This is not to say that councillor and senior officer misogyny and aggression did played no part in what happened, but it is also possible that this cultural aspect of the council’s failure was fed and watered by the ideological and institutional factors which came into local government from Thatcher onwards, whereby management efficiencies become more important than professional relationships in a way which then fostered ‘black box’-style – I don’t care how the target is met, just meet the target – approaches to management .
Again, this is not just esoteric wondering about the background causes to the Rotherham failures; establishing why the failures happened is essential to ensuring that they don’t happen in future. If the public eqnuiry on which Professor Jay will act as a key adviser and is chaired by a key proponent of privatization, accepts her analysis that macho, male-dominated councils are at the heart of the problem, then the solution will lie in human resources practice to ensure that more women are in top positions and /or that macho practice is trained and developed out of people. If, as I contend we should, the key problem is actually that professional autonomy has been stripped away from professionals (and from professional training), then the answers lie elsewhere. This will be a key battleground in the inquiry process, but at the moment the managerialists hold the higher ground.
That’s enough for part 2. Part 3, covering the key conceptual failure of the Jay report, and recommendations for action on the part of those willing to think and act in the interests of children, as opposed to the need to be seen to be angry, will follow soon.
 There is a straight analogy with the application of English law here. The basic principle is that an offender is prosecuted for an offence, not for the type of offender s/he is, although when assessing the level of offence it is leigtimate to take into account other offences committed to establing an offending pattern. It seems odd therefore, for people interested in ‘British values’ to be arguing that there should be a focus on offender profiling rather than offence profiling when it comes to CSE.
 Another question arises here about the ‘issue of ethnicity”: if CSE were in fact ethnic culture-driven, rather than circumstance-driven, what would we actually do about it? Is Jay actually suggesting that priority should be given to changing culture in some way, over and above measures to intervene tactically in the circumstances which we know actually create CSE opportunities? If so, this would seem to be anti-PC gone maaaad, a desperate attempt to paficy the Islam-correlates-with-rape crowd at the expense of children’s futures?
 It occurs to me that this may seem like too strong a defence of frontline social workers. After all, whatever managerialist influences they were subject to, they are still professionals, with professional standards, so should n’t we have expected them to stand up better to their bosses. The answer to this question is yes, we should, but my argument here (as elsewhere) is that moral condemnation of staff – and their sacking – does nothing about professional competence in the long term; we need to establish why and how professional didn’t feel able to act up to professional standards, and a failure to do so will be a like act of gross political failure (as well as failure in social work training, which i’ll cover in part 3)
Here is not the place to go into loss of professional ethics and standards in detail, other than to say that there is a rich seam of ressearch literature on the subject, for those politically professional enough to engage with it. It’s called, broadly, Implementation Studies, and starts with the seminal work of Michael Lipsky (1980), which details how frontline professionals move, in certain circumstances, from autonomy and advocacy towards alienation and disregard for their clients as whole human beings. It ends, for me at least for now, with this detailed qualitiative study of how even Finnish welfare professionals are subject to managerialism and see their work get worse as a result.
 The best read I know on this post-Thatcher trend, other than Chris Dillow’s book, is Gerry Stoker’s (2004) Transforming Local Governance: From Thatcherism to New Labour. Here’s how he summaries managerialism:
Managerialism……..began in the 1980s and 1990s to take an increasingly strong hold in local government. This ideology saw political leadership as important in setting direction but beyond that a potential source of inefficiency. Politicians should set goals but not dictate the means to achieve them. The key to managerialism is its emphasis on the right of managers to mange against inappropriate interference from politicians or, for that matter, the special pleading of professional groups (p.13, my italics)
Ah, you’ve got to love the Daily Mail sometimes*.
Here’s it’s latest shocking revelation:
A total of 190 prospective Labour MPs have links to any trade union.
Mind you, here’s Chapter 5, Clause 2, para £A (iv) of the Labour rule book:
Every Labour MP and MEP must be a member of a trade union
So not that shocking a revelation.
* Not true.
I’ve been quite busy in recent months so haven’t paid as much attention to arcane detail as I should, but I have one simple question about the current Labour National Policy Forum membership: how long does it go on?
The most recent Labour party rule book (2014*) seems unequivocal:
Elections to all divisions of the NPF shall be conducted to guidelines laid down by the NEC. The term of office shall be for two years. (Clause III, D, iv)
So why, if members were elected in 2012, isn’t there an election in 2014. A member of the NEC – the body responsible for the NPF elections – seemed unconcerned when I asked when the elections will take place, replying:
Next year I think – detailed timetable hasn’t been discussed yet .
An exemption was agreed 4 current term on basis of changed procedures -would have to look out my notes re: when agreement reached.
That’s fair enough in terms of not knowing the detail off-hand – NEC members can’t be expected to remember everything – but it’s a worrying reply even so, because I’m just not sure that the NEC has the power to agree such an exemption to the rule book.
Conference remains the overall authority on party rules, including rules on how the NEC conducts itself, to the extent that even where the NEC has the initial power to alter conference arrangements for practical purposes, it must seek ratification from that conference of the changed arrangements (Clause IV, 2).
This may all seem very petty**, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the idea of an executive which appears to consider/assumes its own authority to be greater than that of the body that gives it the authority it does possess. There lies badness.
But perhaps, as I’ve said, I’ve simply missed something.
* I link here to the 2013 rule book on Labourlist, as the 2014 post-Collins Review rule book (April 2014) is passworded on the Labour party site, but the wording and clause numbering are the same (though a different page number).
** Except inasmuch as I’d actually bothered to get nominated by my own CLP in January, to go forward for what I thought would be an election this summer, although my role as agent meant I didn’t have time to go around getting other nominations.
Mark at Labourlist is angry with Jon Cruddas:
The National policy Forum meets in three weeks. So why in all merry hell did Cruddas think that attacking the Labour Party – and Labour Party policy – now, of all times, would be a good idea? Labour policy chief slams policy review? How is that ever going to be a good headline? He’s smart enough and has been around the block long enough to know that this isn’t the way people of his standing in the party are supposed to behave. Look again at this line “these interesting ideas and remedies are not going to emerge through Labour’s policy review”. What were you thinking Jon? I like you – I think you’re a force for good in the Labour Party. But what were you thinking? Your job is to make sure that interesting ideas make their way through the process, not argue the opposite before the process has even finished.
I think the criticism is entirely unfair, and I entirely support Jon who, like Mark, I also think is a force for good within the labour movement. It’s very clear that Jon is attacking not the policy review itself, but the “dead hand” campaign managers and assorted “strategists” who have managed the message so badly. What he’s saying – frustratedly to a like-minded audience – is that there’s a risk that some of the really good stuff coming out of the review risks being filtered out by those campaign managers and strategists There’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying that, because it’s correct. I’m glad that Ed Balls is reflecting that.
Now I like Mark too (I think I met him once), and I think he’s a force for good in the labour movement. He knocks on doors. But he needs to take a step back and look at Labourlist’s own part in this.
The coverage by Labourlist of the big – very big, vet important, IPPR report was, like that of the mainstream media – dominated by the 18-21 year old youth allowance/JSA proposal/means-testing proposal, although it quickly became simply the JSA-slashing proposal*. Yet this was a 280 page report stuffed full of much more important stuff, one of which – the devolution to local city and county regions was in there but has had to be re-announced today. The other related biggie – the proposal to empower local authorities and other pubic bodies to draw forward investment into the early years off a five year cycle on the basis of future savings resutling from that investment – was completely ignored.
Mark accepts (I think) that no-one at Labourlist has actually read the IPPR report, and I suspect their coverage of it was influenced by other non-readings of it. Part of the problem, I suspect then, is that Labourlist’s resources have not grown commensurate with its growing profile, and importance (not in terms of its own direct readership so much as it being a go-to place for other more widely read commentators. Labour itself needs to consider what can be done about this – perhaps my moving some of its wasted PR budget towards Labourlist while guaranteeing absolute independence. In addition, the unions funding Labourlist and Left Foot Forward should consider cutting support to the latter in favour of the former, given that Left Foot Forward is now largely tripe. That way, we might expect that someone within Labourlist (or more likely a few people sharing) would actually get to grips with policy substance.
But better resources are not everything. Labour commentators and campaign managers alike need to get their heads round the idea that the Labour policy review is actually a very good thing, being very well managed within unfortunate constraints established earlier by oh-so-clever but actually much more stupid people.
In the end, it’s the content of the manifesto offer that counts, not some trashy headline from a paper which will attack Labour anyway. Jon and some at IPPR and elsewhere should be congratulated for staying focused on that, not hauled over the coals for being pissed off that the “strategists” still wield far too much influence.
* For what it’s worth, I think the conditional Youth Allowance proposals are a pretty good thing in that they free young people from the stupidity of the JSA job search requirements, but much will depend on the level of autonomy enjoyed by the Job Centre Plus Advisors around the customised plans and the “exceptions”. The proposals are still a too managerial-bureaucratic, as is the way of IPPR (especially Graeme Cooke), but there is time for them to become a useful part of the overall scheme of things. And of course, means-testing parents is only the same as happens with student’s maintenance grants, and only an indiorect form of progressive taxation, to which direct taxation would of course be preferable but not felt currently a vote winner.