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How I’ll vote in the Labour leadership election

September 1, 2015 Leave a comment

Decision time for the Labour leadership and deputy leadership election is upon me.

This is my final choice, barring very unexpected events before I actually do the online business:

Leader

1st preference: Corbyn

2nd preference: Kendall

No other preferences

Deputy leader

1st preference: Creasy

2nd preference: Eagle

No other preferences

The reasoning for my preferences can be summed up thus.

1) I take issue with a number of his stated policy positions, especially the emergent so-called Corbynomics of ‘People’s Quantitative Easing’, which I consider to be a sop to deficit fetishism.  He has also had pretty well nothing to say about empowerment of grassroots activists and local parties.  In isolation, the Corbyn offer is a disappointing one.

2) I am not, in my own mind therefore, a supporter of the candidate Jeremy Corbyn.

3) What I am a supporter of of the genuine grassroots movement which has made him a possible winner of the leadership contest.  I was wrong about Corbyn having no chance of winning, and that his candidacy was therefore a distraction from the real task in hand – the building of a grassroots movement.  As of now, the two have been combined – a grassroots movement has developed, and it looks like he will win because of that.  I have fears about what will happen to that movement now if the organisational building blocks are not put in place to sustain it (see below), but it would be illogical – and lacking due humility at my wrongness – to vote against the movement simply because it’s not been constructed the way I think it might have been.  Social movements are always and necessarily messy, and are undone as much by the needs of control freaks as they are by that messiness.

4) The organic development of a genuine leftwing movement, and my duty to support that in whatever way I can- currently outweighs my concern that, as and when elected, he will be surrounded by a self-regarding new Bennite elite which has little regard for the movement that got Corbyn to the leadership, and little understanding of how to empower local parties and the local labour movements, such that they are able and willing to push out beyond the narrow territory it now occupies, and develop a political space which extends beyond the current confines of state power.  If this concern of a takeover by a new elite is valid, it will fall to me and others to raise the alarm, and to combat it as best we can.

5)  I do not know if Jeremy Corbyn will be more unelectable in 2020 than the other candidates on offer.  Having failed to predict his current popularity amongst the Labour leadership elecorate, it would be foolish of my to predict whether he will be so bogged down by his ‘IRA-supporting’ (or whatever) past that he is unable to help get a leftwing voice heard at national level, or whether the dynamic of politics has changed so much that his perceived ‘authenticity’ will help him rise above all this.

6) I do not even know whether he will make it to 2020.  It may well be that a Corbyn PLP leadership is merely a stepping stone towards the leadership of a candidate for 2020 unsullied by any association with the worst aspect of Blairism.   There are several obvious candidates, come 2018-19, who might benefit from the work done under Corbyn to shift the Overton window to the left on what electability and credibility actually mean.

7) Nor, actually, do I care that much.  As of now, a Corbyn leadership stands as much chance as making countrywide electoral headway as the leadership of any of the current candidates; predictions to the contrary are largely made by people within Labour who failed, like me, to predict the current movement.   My vote is for the movement, not the person.

8) If Corbyn does not make it to 2020, it may be interesting to see if Liz Kendall can shake off her association with the elite Progress project, and return in 2018-19 -if Corbyn does not make it through – with some of her more interesting ideas fleshed out properly; currently she has failed to do so, and a promising middle section to the campaign has been outweighed massively by a disastrous start and and disappointing end.  I give her my second preference merely to signify that she did say one or two interesting things, which the other candidates did not.

9) My choice for deputy leader is easier.  Stella Creasy is the only candidate thinking creatively about how the labour movement can really engage with the new political dynamic in the country; while I disagree with her on crucial aspects of what power and empowerment actually mean over time (I do not think she grasps that the Iron Law of Oligarchy applies to social movements to), she is at least trying.  I do not think she will win this time – and I fear the kind of quasi-statecraft in which Tom Watson will engage – but then nor does she. This campaign is really about setting down markers for the next one.   Angela Eagle is my second preference, as she is a patently decent peacemaker within the party, though the deputy leadership will need more than that.

 

 

Towards associative democracy

August 25, 2015 2 comments

Abstract

Starting from a case study in public procurement devoid of any sense of reality, but full of the twisted logic of managerialism in times of austerity, I move onto an assessment of how such ridiculous development in public service (non)-delivery might act as a catalyst for a new surge of associative democracy institution building at a local level, which might then act as a bridgehead to wider autnomous re-professionalisation and trade union focus on service function, in the spirit of ‘English pluralist’ activists/writers like RH Tawney, JN Figgis and Paul Hirst, and in keeping with the insights of implementation theorist Michael Lipsky.  I also consider how such efforts might be supported by a social work profession in crisis and a Labour party in, erm, its own crisis.

(This is a consolidation with very minor changes of two previous posts, written some weeks apart.)

 

Part I

Here’s the Reverend Giles Fraser on how the police are now the social services of last resort:

The police have to sort stuff out that other people don’t know what to do with, or haven’t got the resources to deal with. Like vicars, they are often the last stop in a game of pass the parcel.

Ah, if only that were true.

This is an excerpt from a specification for a contract recently awarded by a local authority in the North of England:

External Family Support Service contract 

The Contractor [to a NW local authority] will provide intense targeted support at short notice to families with multiple and complex needs often in crisis situations where there is a significant risk of children being accommodated by the Local Authority.

The Contractor will be required to provide Family Support hours as and when requested by the Local Authority. Specifically the service will be required outside of normal office hours.

The Contractor will be expected to provide the above hours across seven days per week, including Bank Holidays.

Work includes:

Care for children / young people in their own home in situations where parents may be intoxicated or recovering from minor surgery etc. and unable to meet their children’s needs for a short period of time.

Conduct work with parents to raise their awareness of the impact and consequences of their chaotic lifestyle and behaviour on their children’s physical and emotional welfare.

Leaving aside the bizarre juxtaposition of intoxication and minor surgery as impediment to safe parenting (possibly a copy and paste error, possibly just ignorance), I think it might be agreed that this is quite a challenging contract: available at all hours, going into potentially volatile domestic circumstances, ensuring child safety and then – presumably when parents are sober enough to listen – putting them to rights on their responsibilities.

Yes – as I had to advise a group of senior social workers I showed this excerpt to at a conference – this is a real contract, really awarded by a real local authority, really recently.

How much, then, do you think the contract might be worth, expressed in £ per hour of provision?

When I asked the same group of social workers what a local authority might expect to pay for this work, taking into account of all the management, training and supervision requirements set out in the contract, and assuming that this would be a lone worker service (not, incidentally, something the police would envisage), the first estimate was £100 per hour of intervention.  That seemed reasonable, they said, given the complexity of the service.  After some ‘lower, lower’ exhortations, they settled on a measly £20 per hour.

This is what the contract specification actually says:

The maximum price permissible to fit within the Council’s affordability envelope is £16.00 per hour for the support and £8.00 per report.  This is due to the on-going budget pressures the local authority is currently experiencing.

When I told them the real price, the social workers thought I had made it all up.

But that’s not quite it.   The tender exercise also invites bidders to say by what percentage they will reduce their price if they want to get paid on time; this ‘early payment discount’ is an increasingly common feature if local authority contracts.

The upshot is that this local authority has outsourced vital emergency social services work to a provider who may be getting as little as £14 per hour for complex and potentially dangerous work on a 24/7, 365 days a year basis.

Let’s be frank.  The service set out in the specification simply cannot be delivered at that price.  It’s just impossible.  The provider will know that.  the local authority knows that (indeed the excerpt above more or less acknowledges it).  So what will actually happen is that the contract will be ‘delivered’ on paper, but not in the real world.

In one scenario, the provider staff member may turn up at a flat, they have been referred to by the social services Emergency Duty Team (EDT), who got a call from the police.  The provider staff member will call the police, on the basis that it’s too dangerous, and leave – having recorded an hour on her timesheet.  The police will call the EDT, just as they did an hour ago……   The vulnerable children may or may not be removed to a ‘place of safety’ under Sec 46 of the Children’s Act 1989.  In all likelihood, they won’t be, because within this ‘unreal’ contract there is provision for making the existing place safe.

In fact, in terms of Giles’ concept of “social service of last resort”, it’s no longer the police – it’s a service which doesn’t really exist.

This is just one contract.  I could point you to others quite like it.  I was told by one local authority commissioning officer dealing with contracts for the implementation of the expanded duties under the Care Act 2014 that there was “no room for quality in this one”: she just had to make sure the right target number of carer assessments etc. were ticked off.  When I wrote to another commissioner seeking a small expansion in contract value with a view to bringing real added value to it (this in family support), I got a copy-and-paste legalistc letter warning that we risked breach of contract if we did not comply with the terms.  No mention was made of what we were actually offering.

All over the country, providers are gaming contracts, cutting quality, cutting corners, because they have to.  Commissioners in their turn prefer not to know this is going on, because it’s easier that way, and service users won’t know any better.  This is a product not just of austerity, but also of a collapse of collective responsibility amongst public service professionals, who have been brow-beaten by their managers to the extent that reality is actually what your boss wants it to be, not what’s actually real.

But how do we try and make reality again? How do we turn back the tide of managerialism-of-the-unreal in a time of continued and even greater cuts?  Concrete labour movement and civil society organisation proposals come in part II.

Part II

In part I, looked at one particular example of how local authority outsourcing has come under such pressure – both financial and managerial – that contracts are now simply undeliverable; there has developed, I contended, a distance between what ‘exists’ in contractual form and what happens in real life.

The ‘unreal’ contracts of this type tend to concentrated on delivery of support services to the most disadvantaged.  The main reason for this is that those who receive (or don’t actually receive) these kind of services are less open to scrutiny and challenge than more universal services.  If a contract for bin collection is let and bins only get collected on paper, not from houses, there’s a pretty good chance that service users will make the local authority aware, and that subsequently performance will be questioned in overview & scrutiny by councillors.  If (to use another real world example) vulnerable carers of vulnerable people get a 3 minute phone assessment of their needs, thereby assumed to be insignificant (and cost-free), rather than the full in-person assessment they should have got and which should have resulted in a full support package, then it is unlikely that this will be picked up as part of a systematic but always inevitable non-delivery/gaming of the contract. The carers’ forum, established within the contract to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen, is easy enough to skew, so that all that comes to it is a story of delivery success.

What, though, can be done about all this?  How can we put the reality back in outsourcing, given continued and ever increasing pressure on public expenditure? How, in particular, can we ensure that the most vulnerable service users are not exploited in this way?  This post seeks to explore some responses to this challenge, as well as seeking to locate these practical responses within a coherent framework for wider activism and empowerment.  As this is a Labour party supporting blog, it also sets out these ideas in the context of the Labour party and movement’s current process of ‘renewal’ (if its current internal debate can be termed such).

Here’s the kind of response I’d like to see.

I’d like to see groups of public service workers coming together, ideally though not necessarily (see below) using the existing institutional legitimacy of local Trades Councils, to develop and implement a programme of scrutiny of outsourcing arrangements, existing and proposed.   This Trades Council committee, strengthened but not dependent on service user input, should make it its principal job to assess the viability of contracts in terms of finances, likely quality of delivery and appropriateness of monitoring systems.

They should award themselves the authority – and that is the crucial concept to which I’ll return – to call before them commissioning managers, service directors/heads of department and where necessary Chief Executives to explain their decision making around how outsourcing contracts have been developed, and where necessary to justify their real world ‘deliverability’.  In the end, the committee should take a view on whether or not the contract as set out by local authorities (and over time the NHS, as ‘devo max’ starts to be implemented) is acceptable to the Trades Council.

Of course, the key questions now arise of  a) Why on earth local authority officers would subject themselves to such a process? b) Why would anyone in a position of local authority power take any notice of a decision by a Trades Council?

The short answer is that, initially at least, they may not. They may even laugh at the prospect.  I’ll come on to how this might be changed, but first I want to look in somewhat wider terms at what an attempt to set up this alternative decision-making process, under the aegis of the Trades Council infrastructure (where it still exists) is really all about.  Doing so – in the context of how power does and might work – may help in turn to determine what initial actions are appropriate in getting this kind of stuff off the ground.

We’re talking here about the establishment of a political institution which doesn’t have the sanction of the state and which, more importantly, contests the authority of the central state – via its sanctioned local decision-making process – to make decisions about how public money is best spent.   As such, we’re talking  about the kid of associative democracy championed by pre-warEnglish pluralist socialists GDH Cole and JN Figgis, and later championed, in the context of the authoritarian bent of the Thatcherite state, by Paul Hirst (pdf) before his untimely death.  In this vision of how society organises itself, the state has no a greater a priori legitimacy than any other form of social organisation, and by extension whenever the state seeks to impose itself as sole legitimate authority, it is open to valid challenge from any other grouping of people which chooses to assert its own legitimacy in deciding, say, how resources are allocated.  Such groupings might include the church (whose legitimacy as an association on a level footing with the state is at the heart of theologian JN Figgis’ work), but also those whose particular function and expertise brings them together as a group – namely the professions (in their widest sense) and the unions [1].

In practice such a political standpoint could translate, in the circumstances we’re dealing with, into the following kind of assertion: “we are a properly constituted body of public service professionals and we have as much if not greater right to oversee and scrutinise the local authority’s commissioning of services in this area, and it is our view that the service as currently commissioned cannot be delivered effectively/safely.”

From this starting point, establishing the right to be taken seriously by the local authority’s decision makers is a matter of establishing legitimacy with a range of ‘players’ [2], both within and beyond the local authority.  Clearly the use of the Trades Council institutional status may count for something, and it may be surprising what a forma letterhead and a ‘proper’ approach to the local authority can achieve, but there are a number of other ways, including through the Labour party structure (especially via councillors open to trade union persuasion [3]), through the voluntary, faith & community sector (VCFS) infrastructure and through local higher education links.  If that sounds improbable, then it might be worth reflecting on the effectiveness of the 1971 Scottish TUC inquiry into the Tory government’s attempts to annihilate shipbuilding on the Upper Clyde, the success of which was all built on establishing the external legitimacy of the inquiry.

The key thing to note about all these examples of how local workers and service users might establish associative legitimacy on a par with that of the (local) state is, of course, that they are just examples.  Every local area will have different circumstances, and different opportunities for building alliances focused on the establishment of ‘parallel legitimacy’.  While I favour the Trades Council as the existing organisational form which might take a lead on such ‘parallel’ institutional development, not least as engagement in this relatively narrow area of public procurement might act as a bridgehead to wider re-orientation of the trade union movement  [4], it may not be the most suitable one in many areas, especially those where Trades Councils simply no longer exist or where  they have been adjusted to other purposes over the years which just aren;t amenable to this new area of activity [5].

In terms of which professional groups might play a key part in this kind of calculated associative democracy initiative, where the focus is largely on defence of quality services for/with the most vulnerable, there is no better candidate than that of social work.  The social work profession is currently in a time of crisis [6], with its professional standards outsourced to a management consultancy firm, the College of Social Work (established in 2009 to develop professionalisation)forced to close in September, and a whole new training regime being swiftly imposed through theFrontline programme [6], with the intention that future social workers will wield a limited range of intervention tool to ‘sort out’ troubled families.  The old concepts of social justice, and the need to see struggling families in context, are being brushed away as an irrelevance to the immediacies of modern social work, and the proponents of those old concepts as academics interested only in preserving their comfortably ‘ivory towers’ existence

In the face of this onslaught, social justice-oriented social workers face a choice: fight a no doubt heroic but almost certainly losing battle on the current accreditation and training terrain, or beat a deliberate retreat and take up the campaign for social justice social work on different terrain.   The organic emergence of the Social Workers Assembly from the wreckage of the College of Social Work, with its intent to challenge the state’s intervention in their professional standards, could turn out to be a leading example, at national level, of the kind of parallel legitimacy organisation I advocate, but it is likely only to be able to do this by developing its legitimacy at local levels first; working with other parts of the labour movement, and with campaigning organisations like theFamily Rights Group [7] in areas where it holds expertise, and in a way which demonstrates that it is able to (re)-establish social work as a profession which, like medicine, can and should be both self-governing.

In the end, whatever groups of public service workers, trade unionists come together around te establishment iof a new decision-making institution of the type proposed, I think there should be two wider aspiration, beyond establishing initial legitimacy.

First, as noted, it should be seen as a bridgehead to greater union/professional engagement in service design, in a way which takes the labour movement beyond the current narrow focus on terms and conditions, and (back) towards the ideal of trade unions as safeguarders and promoters of quality service provision in its own right (and with an ever expanding conception of what a public service is).  I have written more about this here and here.  In ideological terms this might be described as unions taking a Tawney turn, in their active attempt to take from the forces of managerialism the right to direct resources towards the best possible social function.

Second, and closely related to this, should be a conscious attempt to help public servants re-orientate their own working lives, so that – in the terms Michael Lipsky used and which the PCS used to seek to practice – they become advocates for those service users, rather than more or less alienated from those their profession used to serve.

Of course, none of this insitutional legitimacy, and the acceptance of a trade council’s right to veto or adjust an outsourcing contract, creates more money for councils to do tender properly.  Tha’s the brutal reality of a Tory government. What it does do, though, is highlight the way in which many councils are having to/choosing to squeeze contracts focused on services to the most vulnerable, less than other areas of expenditure, precisely because the poor and vulnerable have had, to date, less capacity to resist (and because they vote less).   This in turn creates some space for trades councils etc to push local authorities towards more innovative social financing arrangements of the type advocated here, and in many other thinktank forums, but so far massively underdeveloped because of a political risk aversion to the kind of complexity that such ‘downstream savings’ require (see my post here for more on this).

Finally, where does the Labour party – in its current soul searching/holding out for a hero mode – fit with all this.  In terms of the leadership debate, Jeremy Corbyn has not yet engaged with this area at all – hence the lingering doubts about whether his is a solely state-oriented socialism.   If he does win, it is to be hoped that the process of re-orienting the Labour party’s resources towards the kind of community organisation advocated by Stella Creasy – though she too needs to reflects on the contradictions inherent to her (and Liz Kendall’s) view of power   – will be near the top of the to-do list.  In practical terms, this might mean enabling/encouraging CLPs to work with and resource emergent or re-emergent trade councils (remembering of course that trades councils cannot constitutionally affiliate to Labour), or with other institutional developments.  This kind of grassroots resourcing, funded through an extended NEC CLP Improvement Fund, should take precedence over the proposed Diversity Fund, which is a distraction from the real job in hand, and which simply fuels the Westminster-centricity of the party.

More likely, of course, is that whoever leads or deputy leads the party will prove to be a disappointment when it comes to internal party and movement development.  That goes with the territory.   In reality, local parties – along with any local bodies and people they can develop alliances with – are going to have to do it for themselves.

 

Notes

[1] The legalistic principles (Laski, esp. chapter 1), and the historical reality of state formation by violence (Tilly) that underpin the doctrine of associative democracy are my preferred underpinning to my proposals for the development of institutions with parallel legitimacy of the state, not least as they coalesce with a more explicitly Marxian analysis of the state as an agent of capital, and therefore one which needs to be undermined through these ‘parallel legitimacy’ means or more directly.

However, it is also worth pointing out – perhaps in the interests of strategic alliance buildingbetween the left and (more intelligent) Conservatism – that associative democracy is also consistent with the basic tenets of communitarianism, and even with the kind of reformed ‘Big Society’ programme now advocated by people like Danny Kruger.  From this perspective, it might be argued that the kind of parallel democratic structure advocated here acts as a corrective to the current ‘rights v responsibilities’ imbalance.  The old Big Society programme, now rubbished by the left and earlier advocates alike, can be seen as massively imbalanced towards the responsibilities side of the bargain, with local communities and organisations getting all the crap that goes with coping with the cuts, but none of the rights that could have gone with that.  (We”ll leave aside here that a key failure in both communitarian and Red Tory/Big Society thought is the essentialistassumption that positive communities are just ‘there’ – an assumption arugably even less validthan it was when it was first dreamed up, or emerged from faith-based discourses such as Catholic Social Teaching)

[2] See my earlier post on strategic action fields and the development of links to organisations with ‘mutually realisable interests.

[3] Trades Councils’ constitutions do not allow for official affiliation with the Labour party.

[4] I have written before about the wider potential for modernised and reinvigorated Trades Councils.

[5] In my own area, South West Lancashire Trades Council changed its remit over the years so that it runs to all intents and purposes like a small charity, focused on debt advice.  This is not a criticism of the people who have taken it in that direction in response to an identified and unmet need, and it is quite possible with appropriate support from the TUC that many could re-emerge with new purpose and energy.

[6]  For evidence of the hostility between the ‘new young Turks’ at Frontline and other social work educators, see its CEO’s “get out of the way” attack in Progress magazine, and the response.  The choice of Porgress magazine as a place for the initial attack is not a coincidence, since it was Progress, and in particular its head honcho Andrew Adonis, who were responsible for making Frontline happen, via a compliant IPPR (which hot-housed Frontline) and a Coalition government delighted at the managerial, anti social work ‘blob’ approach being promoted by Frontline.  The coup has been, to date, astonishingly effective.

[7] Declaration of interest: I sit on the advisory panel of the Family Rights Group’s Your Family, Your Voice project, which is seeking to drive its work to more local level, though it is early days.

 

Outsourcing reality (part II): the response

August 25, 2015 Leave a comment

In part I, looked at one particular example of how local authority outsourcing has come under such pressure – both financial and managerial – that contracts are now simply undeliverable; there has developed, I contended, a distance between what ‘exists’ in contractual form and what happens in real life.

The ‘unreal’ contracts of this type tend to concentrated on delivery of support services to the most disadvantaged.  The main reason for this is that those who receive (or don’t actually receive) these kind of services are less open to scrutiny and challenge than more universal services.  If a contract for bin collection is let and bins only get collected on paper, not from houses, there’s a pretty good chance that service users will make the local authority aware, and that subsequently performance will be questioned in overview & scrutiny by councillors.  If (to use another real world example) vulnerable carers of vulnerable people get a 3 minute phone assessment of their needs, thereby assumed to be insignificant (and cost-free), rather than the full in-person assessment they should have got and which should have resulted in a full support package, then it is unlikely that this will be picked up as part of a systematic but always inevitable non-delivery/gaming of the contract. The carers’ forum, established within the contract to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen, is easy enough to skew, so that all that comes to it is a story of delivery success.

What, though, can be done about all this?  How can we put the reality back in outsourcing, given continued and ever increasing pressure on public expenditure? How, in particular, can we ensure that the most vulnerable service users are not exploited in this way?  This post seeks to explore some responses to this challenge, as well as seeking to locate these practical responses within a coherent framework for wider activism and empowerment.  As this is a Labour party supporting blog, it also sets out these ideas in the context of the Labour party and movement’s current process of ‘renewal’ (if its current internal debate can be termed such).

Here’s the kind of response I’d like to see.

I’d like to see groups of public service workers coming together, ideally though not necessarily (see below) using the existing institutional legitimacy of local Trades Councils, to develop and implement a programme of scrutiny of outsourcing arrangements, existing and proposed.   This Trades Council committee, strengthened but not dependent on service user input, should make it its principal job to assess the viability of contracts in terms of finances, likely quality of delivery and appropriateness of monitoring systems.

They should award themselves the authority – and that is the crucial concept to which I’ll return – to call before them commissioning managers, service directors/heads of department and where necessary Chief Executives to explain their decision making around how outsourcing contracts have been developed, and where necessary to justify their real world ‘deliverability’.  In the end, the committee should take a view on whether or not the contract as set out by local authorities (and over time the NHS, as ‘devo max’ starts to be implemented) is acceptable to the Trades Council.

Of course, the key questions now arise of  a) Why on earth local authority officers would subject themselves to such a process? b) Why would anyone in a position of local authority power take any notice of a decision by a Trades Council?

The short answer is that, initially at least, they may not. They may even laugh at the prospect.  I’ll come on to how this might be changed, but first I want to look in somewhat wider terms at what an attempt to set up this alternative decision-making process, under the aegis of the Trades Council infrastructure (where it still exists) is really all about.  Doing so – in the context of how power does and might work – may help in turn to determine what initial actions are appropriate in getting this kind of stuff off the ground.

We’re talking here about the establishment of a political institution which doesn’t have the sanction of the state and which, more importantly, contests the authority of the central state – via its sanctioned local decision-making process – to make decisions about how public money is best spent.   As such, we’re talking  about the kid of associative democracy championed by pre-war English pluralist socialists GDH Cole and JN Figgis, and later championed, in the context of the authoritarian bent of the Thatcherite state, by Paul Hirst (pdf) before his untimely death.  In this vision of how society organises itself, the state has no a greater a priori legitimacy than any other form of social organisation, and by extension whenever the state seeks to impose itself as sole legitimate authority, it is open to valid challenge from any other grouping of people which chooses to assert its own legitimacy in deciding, say, how resources are allocated.  Such groupings might include the church (whose legitimacy as an association on a level footing with the state is at the heart of theologian JN Figgis’ work), but also those whose particular function and expertise brings them together as a group – namely the professions (in their widest sense) and the unions [1].

In practice such a political standpoint could translate, in the circumstances we’re dealing with, into the following kind of assertion: “we are a properly constituted body of public service professionals and we have as much if not greater right to oversee and scrutinise the local authority’s commissioning of services in this area, and it is our view that the service as currently commissioned cannot be delivered effectively/safely.”

From this starting point, establishing the right to be taken seriously by the local authority’s decision makers is a matter of establishing legitimacy with a range of ‘players’ [2], both within and beyond the local authority.  Clearly the use of the Trades Council institutional status may count for something, and it may be surprising what a forma letterhead and a ‘proper’ approach to the local authority can achieve, but there are a number of other ways, including through the Labour party structure (especially via councillors open to trade union persuasion [3]), through the voluntary, faith & community sector (VCFS) infrastructure and through local higher education links.  If that sounds improbable, then it might be worth reflecting on the effectiveness of the 1971 Scottish TUC inquiry into the Tory government’s attempts to annihilate shipbuilding on the Upper Clyde, the success of which was all built on establishing the external legitimacy of the inquiry.

The key thing to note about all these examples of how local workers and service users might establish associative legitimacy on a par with that of the (local) state is, of course, that they are just examples.  Every local area will have different circumstances, and different opportunities for building alliances focused on the establishment of ‘parallel legitimacy’.  While I favour the Trades Council as the existing organisational form which might take a lead on such ‘parallel’ institutional development, not least as engagement in this relatively narrow area of public procurement might act as a bridgehead to wider re-orientation of the trade union movement  [4], it may not be the most suitable one in many areas, especially those where Trades Councils simply no longer exist or where  they have been adjusted to other purposes over the years which just aren;t amenable to this new area of activity [5].

In terms of which professional groups might play a key part in this kind of calculated associative democracy initiative, where the focus is largely on defence of quality services for/with the most vulnerable, there is no better candidate than that of social work.  The social work profession is currently in a time of crisis [6], with its professional standards outsourced to a management consultancy firm, the College of Social Work (established in 2009 to develop professionalisation) forced to close in September, and a whole new training regime being swiftly imposed through the Frontline programme [6], with the intention that future social workers will wield a limited range of intervention tool to ‘sort out’ troubled families.  The old concepts of social justice, and the need to see struggling families in context, are being brushed away as an irrelevance to the immediacies of modern social work, and the proponents of those old concepts as academics interested only in preserving their comfortably ‘ivory towers’ existence

In the face of this onslaught, social justice-oriented social workers face a choice: fight a no doubt heroic but almost certainly losing battle on the current accreditation and training terrain, or beat a deliberate retreat and take up the campaign for social justice social work on different terrain.   The organic emergence of the Social Workers Assembly from the wreckage of the College of Social Work, with its intent to challenge the state’s intervention in their professional standards, could turn out to be a leading example, at national level, of the kind of parallel legitimacy organisation I advocate, but it is likely only to be able to do this by developing its legitimacy at local levels first; working with other parts of the labour movement, and with campaigning organisations like the Family Rights Group [7] in areas where it holds expertise, and in a way which demonstrates that it is able to (re)-establish social work as a profession which, like medicine, can and should be both self-governing.

In the end, whatever groups of public service workers, trade unionists come together around te establishment iof a new decision-making institution of the type proposed, I think there should be two wider aspiration, beyond establishing initial legitimacy.

First, as noted, it should be seen as a bridgehead to greater union/professional engagement in service design, in a way which takes the labour movement beyond the current narrow focus on terms and conditions, and (back) towards the ideal of trade unions as safeguarders and promoters of quality service provision in its own right (and with an ever expanding conception of what a public service is).  I have written more about this here and here.  In ideological terms this might be described as unions taking a Tawney turn, in their active attempt to take from the forces of managerialism the right to direct resources towards the best possible social function.

Second, and closely related to this, should be a conscious attempt to help public servants re-orientate their own working lives, so that – in the terms Michael Lipsky used and which the PCS used to seek to practice – they become advocates for those service users, rather than more or less alienated from those their profession used to serve.

Of course, none of this insitutional legitimacy, and the acceptance of a trade council’s right to veto or adjust an outsourcing contract, creates more money for councils to do tender properly.  Tha’s the brutal reality of a Tory government. What it does do, though, is highlight the way in which many councils are having to/choosing to squeeze contracts focused on services to the most vulnerable, less than other areas of expenditure, precisely because the poor and vulnerable have had, to date, less capacity to resist (and because they vote less).   This in turn creates some space for trades councils etc to push local authorities towards more innovative social financing arrangements of the type advocated here, and in many other thinktank forums, but so far massively underdeveloped because of a political risk aversion to the kind of complexity that such ‘downstream savings’ require (see my post here for more on this).

Finally, where does the Labour party – in its current soul searching/holding out for a hero mode – fit with all this.  In terms of the leadership debate, Jeremy Corbyn has not yet engaged with this area at all – hence the lingering doubts about whether his is a solely state-oriented socialism.   If he does win, it is to be hoped that the process of re-orienting the Labour party’s resources towards the kind of community organisation advocated by Stella Creasy – though she too needs to reflects on the contradictions inherent to her (and Liz Kendall’s) view of power   – will be near the top of the to-do list.  In practical terms, this might mean enabling/encouraging CLPs to work with and resource emergent or re-emergent trade councils (remembering of course that trades councils cannot constitutionally affiliate to Labour), or with other institutional developments.  This kind of grassroots resourcing, funded through an extended NEC CLP Improvement Fund, should take precedence over the proposed Diversity Fund, which is a distraction from the real job in hand, and which simply fuels the Westminster-centricity of the party.

 

More likely, of course, is that whoever leads or deputy leads the party will prove to be a disappointment when it comes to internal party and movement development.  That goes with the territory.   In reality, local parties – along with any local bodies and people they can develop alliances with – are going to have to do it for themselves.

 

Notes

 

 

[1] The legalistic principles (Laski, esp. chapter 1), and the historical reality of state formation by violence (Tilly) that underpin the doctrine of associative democracy are my preferred underpinning to my proposals for the development of institutions with parallel legitimacy of the state, not least as they coalesce with a more explicitly Marxian analysis of the state as an agent of capital, and therefore one which needs to be undermined through these ‘parallel legitimacy’ means or more directly.

However, it is also worth pointing out – perhaps in the interests of strategic alliance building between the left and (more intelligent) Conservatism – that associative democracy is also consistent with the basic tenets of communitarianism, and even with the kind of reformed ‘Big Society’ programme now advocated by people like Danny Kruger.  From this perspective, it might be argued that the kind of parallel democratic structure advocated here acts as a corrective to the current ‘rights v responsibilities’ imbalance.  The old Big Society programme, now rubbished by the left and earlier advocates alike, can be seen as massively imbalanced towards the responsibilities side of the bargain, with local communities and organisations getting all the crap that goes with coping with the cuts, but none of the rights that could have gone with that.  (We”ll leave aside here that a key failure in both communitarian and Red Tory/Big Society thought is the essentialist assumption that positive communities are just ‘there’ – an assumption arugably even less valid than it was when it was first dreamed up, or emerged from faith-based discourses such as Catholic Social Teaching)

[2] See my earlier post on strategic action fields and the development of links to organisations with ‘mutually realisable interests.

[3] Trades Councils’ constitutions do not allow for official affiliation with the Labour party.

[4] I have written before about the wider potential for modernised and reinvigorated Trades Councils.

[5] In my own area, South West Lancashire Trades Council changed its remit over the years so that it runs to all intents and purposes like a small charity, focused on debt advice.  This is not a criticism of the people who have taken it in that direction in response to an identified and unmet need, and it is quite possible with appropriate support from the TUC that many could re-emerge with new purpose and energy.

[6]  For evidence of the hostility between the ‘new young Turks’ at Frontline and other social work educators, see its CEO’s “get out of the way” attack in Progress magazine, and the response.  The choice of Porgress magazine as a place for the initial attack is not a coincidence, since it was Progress, and in particular its head honcho Andrew Adonis, who were responsible for making Frontline happen, via a compliant IPPR (which hot-housed Frontline) and a Coalition government delighted at the managerial, anti social work ‘blob’ approach being promoted by Frontline.  The coup has been, to date, astonishingly effective.

[7] Declaration of interest: I sit on the advisory panel of the Family Rights Group’s Your Family, Your Voice project, which is seeking to drive its work to more local level, though it is early days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a priori

 

Liz Kendall and the meanings of empowerment

August 6, 2015 1 comment

Alex has an interesting post at Progress Online, making the case for Liz Kendall as Labour leader. His central premise is that Liz will be the best leader because she has the ability to deliver a key message;

Whether it is empowering workers through better rights and pay, empowering young people with a better start in life or empowering communities, councils and regions through radical devolution, Kendall continually comes back to the idea that ‘every corner of our country should have the power and control to shape their own lives’.

I think there are two this that need unpicking.

The first, which Don Paskini [1] picked up on, is the apparent inconsistency of logic when it comes to deciding what policy areas can be sold to the public.   On the one hand, many of Kendall’s supports will say that Jeremy Corbyn is in cloud cuckoo land to think that an anti-austerity message can win enough votes to win an election, even though the answers to one (interestingly conceived) polling question suggests that a large majority of people are not anti-austerity.   On the other hand, they are happy to promote devolution and decentralisation to a public which, in answer another (interestingly conceived) post-election polling question, voters show a clear preference for centralisation and this equality of standards.

 

Statement pair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alex actually made a pretty good fist of a response when I challenged him on this inconsistency, arguing not just that that lack of support for decentralisation in the poll is more an issue of question phrasing than actual lack of support [2], but that the empowerment pledges offered by Liz are much wider than devolution and decentralisation of decision-making over services, and includes “a modernised union movement, online balloting, worker representation, so on and so forth.”

In fact I agree with some of this, especially the so on and so forth bits.  What attracts me to the Liz Kendall campaign, and has me considering her for my no.1 vote, is precisely that willingness to envisage a Labour party & movement which will “go back to our roots as a party and ensure people have the power to shape their lives, the services they use, and the communities in which they live.”  In this – the development of the labour movement itself as an ’empowering’ organisation, she currently offers more than Jeremy Corbyn.

But it’s also in this very pledge of empowement that the key problem with her campaign lies, and why she’s likely to lose.

The problem, at its simplest, is that she (and Alex) are conflating what she are offering the country with what she’s offering the party.  As the polling answer above suggests (and as Alex himself argues), the wider public is not interested in some abstract notion of ‘transfer of powers’, especially but not only when this offered is set against an assumed alternative of having “equal standards everywhere.”  But for the Labour movement itself, a promise of increased resources to get on with stuff in their communities is attractive.  It’s just a shame that this promise to members has not come across properly, in part because it has been entangled with wider, vaguer promises to voters.

Behind this conflation lies, I suspect, a deeper confusion about what real ’empowerment’ means – what Chris refers to as “[t]he challenge….to ensure real empowerment, not mere tokenism”.

Empowerment is all too often conceived of as handing over power to people and this, I think, is the way Liz probably conceives of it.   This form of empowerment, though, is always to some extent tokenistic, because within the act of a holder of power handing over power there is always and inevitably the message that the power was legitimately in the ownership of the power in the first place’.  From there, there are two consequences.  First, those given power are always conscious that the power may be taken away again if it is not exercised ‘correctly’.  Second, and in light of the first, power is always handed over with terms & conditions, either explicit or implicit.   Thus, any power which is actively handed over is always and irredeemably ‘tokenistic’ though clearly the longer it is exercised by the one given it, the less tokenistic it may feel.

Real empowerment,on the other hand, is about working with people so that they develop the tools to take power for themselves.  Ultimately only power and control taken by ourselves is real power.  This is what distinguishes the Freirian conception of ‘problem-forming’ from the more managerial ‘problem-solving’ [3]

The latter form of empowerment is what a Labour party remodelled around proper community organisation, in the way Liz half proposes, could really be about.   It can help create (but more often sustain/help grow) the organisational forms and process that Saul Alinsky rightly says are important precursors to the taking of control in specific areas [4]:

Building a strong, lasting and staffed organization alters the relations of power. Once such an organization exists, people on the “other side” must always consider the organization when making decisions.

That is why I am so interested in the potential for the Labour part to be part of a new phase on “parallel institution” building (as both Richard Sennett and Paul Hirst advocate), in which citizens and workers create their own institutions which ‘owe’ nothing to the state, to the point where they come to have equal legitimacy at a particular spatial scale.  It’s this kind of local community activity, including but not restricted to the re-invigoration and re-direction of Trades Councils (cf. Alex’s notion of ‘modernised trade unions’) that I’ll be coming back to when  I tackle part II of Outsourcing Reality.

I’m not sure that Liz gets this stuff yet. To me, her form empowerment looks like a fairly traditional handover of authority and decision-making – complete with central constraints and power pull-back where that is deemded necessary – rather than anything genuinely transformational and power reversing, within which the party/movement plays a key instigatory part.  That’s why she conflates.  There’s no theory of radical change.

I don’t think Liz is going to win.  There may be another contest before 2019.  Maybe she’ll take some of this on board.  If she does, I may vote for her, unless someone else gets it better than her (Stella Creasy?).

 

 

[1] Not actually his real name, which I’m never sure if I’m allowed to reveal, what with him being a tremendously important person nowadays.

[2] ‘Oh, irony!’  I hear the shout from Corbynites accused of resorting to such methodogocial niceties  in a desperate bid to avoid the truth

[3] From a conflict resolution/meidation perspective, Maire Dugan is useful on the distinction between these two conceptions of empowerment:

Bush and Folger identify two ways in which transformative mediators work to empower parties in a mediation

1.  They adopt a “micro” focus. They presume that, during the mediation process, there will be many opportunities for each party to make decisions through which they will feel a new sense of control over the conflict, or at least over their behavior in the conflict. Transformative mediators listen carefully to the statements made by each party, looking for such transformative opportunities.

This approach contrasts with a “macro” focus, more common in the problem-solving approach, “in which mediators try to reach global assessments about the definition of the parties’ problem and view all the parties’ contributions in terms of inputs into this global problem-assessment effort.

2.  Transformative mediators put a priority on encouraging and supporting parties in careful deliberation about the range of choices they may have available to them.

[4] I don’t think that either Alinsky, or his acolyte Arnie Graf, really get the kind of grassroots ‘get stuff’ done activity that is required to create the trust in such organisational forms in the first place, but that’s for another blogpost, when I tackle the disastrous Arnie Graf period and its legacy for Labour.

Categories: Labour Party News

Corbyn’s Third Way

August 3, 2015 3 comments

Corbynomics has entered the political lexicon, at least for the time being.

While today the debate is about whether his people’s QE is or isn’t inherently inflationary (and by extension whether inflation is a tolerable price to pay for investment), I think the more interesting question – already addressed by Chris – is who is best at doing the investing, whether or not it’s via QE or from the the £93bn his team reckons can be made available if a Labour government were to “strip out some of the huge tax reliefs and subsidies on offer to the corporate sector” to be “better used in “direct public investment, which in turn would give a stimulus to private sector supply chains.”

As Chris notes, this may or may not cause corporate investment to plummet, and may or may not end up as “better used”.  It would, in the end, be a gamble on whether the state can appoint and/or elect investment managers so good enough at investing that they get a better deal for the country than leaving the dosh with the private sector to do as they see fit, when they see fit (and with interest rates used to incentivise them towards seeing fit when need be).

That’s actually quite a big gamble [1], so I’d like to propose a less risky Corbyn Third Way (CTW).  I call it the CTW because it might balance the Blair Third Way (BTW);  while the BTW was based on an a priori assumption that markets deliver better than the state, the CTW might understandably based on an assumption that they’re likely to let us all down, but in the end both depend on using the state if it does go wrong.

Thus, under the CTW, the private sector might get first dibs on investing a reasonable percentage of the purported £93bn back into the productive economy.   But, if it fails to do so, the state will do it instead.  This might be by means of a non-investment tax, levied on companies which have invested below a certain percentage of their profits in the productive economy (inclusive of the knd of R&D spend which already brings tax breaks), probably according to a graded scale.

Of course there are downsides to this, including complexity of tax administration and the fact that it may do little to stimulate productivity [2], but the main upside would be to allow the private sector to do what it says it’s good at, while ensuring that it signs up to a new form of social contract, not this time between the state and labour, but between the state and capital.

And that would be neatly Corbyesque.

 

[1] That said, there are areas of direct public investment with huge social and economic rates of return that the public sector will continue to be best at for some time. I’m thinking particularly of high quality children’s social work, for example, where entry into the market by private sector operators looking to prove they have exerted social control over families – at the expense and to the direct detriment of real solutions properly owned – is already proving disastrous.  More on that later this week.

[2] On the other hand, it may do more than direct public investment, which for infrastructure projects will be direct to the private sector anyway, at contract prices which may build in long-term stagnation in productivity growth.

 

Stella Creasy for deputy leader

August 2, 2015 1 comment

With this speech to confirm my position, I will – unless a significant counter-offer comes along from other candidates – be voting for Stella Creasy as deputy leader of the Labour party

This is the clincher paragraph:

[I]f you as a CLP, a labour friends team, local councillor group or affiliated organisation have a good idea that will achieve these ambitions we will match fund you with people, money or media to campaign for it. And if you are unsuccessful in getting people behind your idea to get this support, we will offer you training and skills development in how to strengthen your case as well as links with other campaigns and organisations to help too. We don’t need to wait to the election to support campaigning for change, and think how powerful and positive it could be for Labour’s policy platform at the election to come from this way of working.

This is close enough as an outline to my earlier recommendations to make her worth voting for.  Those recommendations, as set out to Labour’s two recent useless reviews were and are, are copied across from those the review submissions below, but can be summarised briefly as:

  • the need to reverse financial and decision-making flows in the party  to ensure that local parties get to ‘do stuff’ in the way Stella envisages
  • brings MPs and PCCs within the framework of a community organising party, an makes them accountable; and

Clearly, Stella’s semi-proposal doesn’t go this far, but a commitment to ‘match-funding’ makes some localisation of finance a logical necessity.  I also think her view that “we” (whoever that is, precisely) will provide training to local people on how to get stuff done is a little presumptuous – quite often it will need to be the other way round, as it’s Labour who need to catch up.

But it’s the closest I’ve seen to a a commitment to material institutional change in favour or making Labour into a doing party, so my vote is for Stella unless Tom or Angela come up with anything better (and Tom”s declining even to answer my messages to his site suggests he’s playing safe with his lead).

 

Here’s are the fuller recommendations I set out to Refounding Labour and Collins (I’ve taken the Collins one which updates the earlier one slightly).

While the recommendations we set out below are framed in terms of legislation for all parties, and should form a key plank in our next manifesto, the Labour party should start to implement the changes within its own party, providing evidence to all that they are effective as a mean to revitalize politics at local, and thereby national, level.

This will need to be done via the party rule book rather than via legislation so that (as the most obvious example) Labour MPs receiving the IPSA-recommended salary will be expected, as a condition of party membership, to lodge what they receive via this route with their local party, and then draw a salary agreed with their local party (and via collective bargaining by MPs).

The whole financial flow of state funding for all political parties that have representatives in the House of Commons (as a proxy for overall current national legitimacy, and to exclude the BNP and other extremists) should be reversed, in order to promote local political activity and devolve power within parties to the ’grassroots’.

The total amount of state funding should be equivalent ONLY to the amount of funding provided indirectly to political parties in the forms of MP allowances, ministerial allowances etc. and, for example, funds spent by the BBC on allowing free party political broadcasts. There would therefore be no overall additional cost to the taxpayer. Indeed, a saving might be made.

The overall ‘pot’ of money should then be divided up at a local level e.g. CLP level/Tory association level on a pro-rata basis according to membership at the start of the financial year. It would be up to the parties themselves to debate and decide on what amount of this locally allocated resource should be allocated to national party levels.

The important change would be that, as with the money – if formally lodged with local parties in the first instance – the power balance between centre and local is changed for the better.

All other types of donations would be permissible, but could only be made to local parties, and would not exceed a certain ratio of private donation to state funding (level to be agreed). Individual donors would only be able to donate to a limited number (let us say 3 for arguments sake) of local parties in this way, of which one would need to be the donor’s area of residence.

Unions would abide by the same rules, with each union branch counting as an individual donor. There would be an expectation that the ratio of state to donor funding permissible would fall over the first few years, as the money is replaced my membership fees in rejuvenated local parties (see below).

The reversal of financial flows, as set out briefly would do two main things.

First, and important enough in the current context of poor public opinion of both MPs and national level political parties, it would make them much more accountable to the local parties that selected them to stand for office (whether parliamentary or intra-party) in the first place (see above also on the need to change the role of the MP).

For example, the money that used to go straight to their MP expenses bank accounts to fund e.g. local offices, local staff as well as their day-to-day personal expenses will be lodged, alongside any other matching funds, with the local party. The MP will need to justify her/his claim to a section of the overall local party ‘pot’, by setting out a business plan for an appropriate period and justifying costs.

In most cases, local parties are going to want an MP who does plenty of casework and local representation, as well as ‘performing’ for them in parliament as they want them to, and will provide a reasonable budget for this, including a place to live in London during the week, for example.

If the MP can justify 1st class travel on the train, for example, because it allows them to get more work done, then that’s fine. If not, that’s fine too. If the local party thinks it might be a better idea if the MP’s office and the local party office functions should be merged to rationalise costs, then they’ll have the final say.

Equally, national level parties will have to seek money from local parties to carry out their functions (beyond a certain top-slicing which might be agreed to allow a core national function). Thus, for example, if the national party wanted to spend money on TV adverts, they would have to seek the money for it from local parties.

Cynics might argue that, while it’s all very well to devolve power to local parties, this is hardly the same as devolving to local people; the argument of those keen to retain power centrally will be something along the lines that local parties are currently very weak structures in many areas, peopled, if they are peopled at all, by self-selecting, self-referential nobodies with few brain cells to rub together. This argument will come particularly, from ‘party HQers’ themselves desperate to retain the current status quo of the power and money structure, and who are distrustful of the capacity of the ‘foot soldier’ activists.

That, after all, is what is writ large in both main parties’ ’motivational’ literature, and in the many central government documents, influenced by the policy wonks at HQ or at Downing Street – the view that local parties are a thing of the past, that local politics can safely be done away with in favour of technocratic management of CLPs/Tory associations, where the only expectations are lip service to policy reviews and, more important, to campaigning with HQ-sanctioned leaflets, HQ-sanctioned IT set-ups which alienate people ‘on the doorstep’ because they’ve been created by people who’ve never been ‘on the doorstep and don’t realise asking questions of people while ticking off their answers on a pre-arranged coded list is not the same as talking to people like they are people.

The point is that, with a reversal of the financial flow, what a local party gets financially becomes dependent on their membership, and local parties will suddenly become wholly different entities.

With money comes the capacity to ‘do stuff’, and combined with a new motivation within existing membership to draw in members, there would almost certainly be a rapid rise in membership, as people actually start to see a point – a decision making point – to being in their party of choice.

Local parties suddenly get not just the opportunity to decide, as a member, on how the MP should use their money (or, in extreme circumstances, whether to give them any at all), but also to decide, for example, on whether the party, and by newly re-established link, the area as a whole, will be best served by the state funding going into a dozen leaflets, or into services that the Council won’t pay for.

And suddenly, the way opens up for parties to become mass parties again. At local level, people will engage because engagement matters, and it will not be long before there is a much smaller distinction between ‘the party’ and the people those parties have, rhetorically, at least, been set up to serve.

As set out above, as membership increases in this way, so will the opportunity to legislate on the permitted ratio of private donations to local funding, as the membership fee total will be counted into this whole. As membership grows, so does democratic entitlement, whereby you don’t have to be called Ashcroft to have your say on what your party does with the cash.

In terms of the Labour party, the obvious additional opportunities will lie in the possibility of renewing the link with trade unions, via membership fees, and in some cases starting even to develop the local party organically as a newly rejuvenated Trades Council (see below also) in the way aspired to years ago, but in many areas never really attained because of the very constraints on power, from above, that have set out above.

As noted, in the absence of Labour-led legislative changes to make all this happen (e.g. the redirecting of parliamentary monies to local party units), Labour will need to make ‘voluntary’ arrangements to lead the way, and show what can be achieved. This will require adaptation to the rule book, such that parliamentary payments for the running of constituency offices are in fact invested in local parties in the way set out above. In reality, at least in the short term, the transfer of the monies is likely to be a notional one rather than an actual bank transfer, though the rule book should provide for such a move in the event of fundamental MP disagreement with local parties over spending usage.

While the focus here has been on MPs, we should add that we recommend similar arrangements for PPCs (clearly it will be an advantage for them to be selected early) with suitable adaptation to the rules in light of the reduced spending available. Of course it will be within the power of CLPs that do have a Labour MP to put within their agreed business plan provision for the support of an adjoining (or even partnered at the other end of the country) CLP.

Appropriate arrangements will also need to be made, following the same principles, for MEPs (and MEP candidates where these are selected early enough).

Taking Liz Kendall at her word

July 31, 2015 3 comments

As things stand, my preference votes for the Labour leadership are: 1) Corbyn 2) Kendall 3) No-one else.   This may change to 1) Kendall 2) Corbyn 3) No-one else over the coming weeks if I read or hear anything that deepens the positions of my two lead contenders in ways I like.

I suspect this 1&2 pairing may be a minority position amongst Labour members, so I’ll explain.

Let’s deal with the Burnham & Cooper first.  I can’t do better than Anthony:

Why vote for left-sounding rhetoric – with vacillations attached – when you can have the real thing [1]?

On Corbyn, I can’t currently do much better than Chris‘s half-hearted support:

Corbyn’s world seems to comprise just two actors: the state and capitalist corporations. There seems insufficient emphasis upon decentralized forms of economic control, be they Robin Hahnel’s participatory planning, Roemerian market socialism or workers’ control.

Corbynomics might be a building block towards these. But as it stands, it looks to me like replacing one set of bosses with another – which isn’t as egalitarian as it could be.

Nevertheless, Corbyn is at least asking the right question – how to stimulate investment – which is, sadly, more than his rivals are doing.

On Kendall, I’ve already noted why I don’t think she’s Tory-lite.  She is the only candidate who gets (at least publicly) the 2019 ‘it’s no longer cuts reversal, it’s a promise of brand new state spending’ bind that other leaders might find themselves in, and which her current position might just enable her to escape.

Of course, this whole point – that it’s now well outside the Overton window [1] to argue for public investment in services & infrastructure which end up creating a happier, more prosperous citizenship is, in the first place – is a product of the 20011-2012 Milibandian capitulation [2], and she was part of the parliamentary team responsible for snatching defeat from the then possible jaws of victory.  But that’s history now, and I’m interested in whether Kendall has enough about her to help take the party forward for the next three years, and whether she can, even within the Overton window of ‘fiscal responsibility’, be chief representative of a party which offers something distinctive and isn’t simply regarded by the voting public as not as good as the real Tory thing.

This, if we take her at her word is what offers me hope:

[I]n our best moments Labour has recognised that equality is about more than tax and spend alone.

It’s about how we are treated by the people around us, and the institutions and services we use. It’s about self-respect, dignity and a sense of control over our own lives. That feeling of control isn’t created by government alone. We won’t make Britain a more equal society if a small group of people in Whitehall have all the power and everyone else has none. Real control only comes when people can do things for themselves.

Unlike the Tories, Labour understands this requires support, resources, backing and opportunities – and for an active Government to work in new ways.

…….

My argument today is that we need to go back to our roots as a party and ensure people have the power to shape their lives, the services they use, and the communities in which they live. Power in people’s hands. That is what Labour is for. Yesterday, today and always.

If government, business and public services need to support people doing things for themselves, so does the Labour party. I am proud of our party and our movement and the amazing work our activists do in every corner of Britain. But too often we don’t value our members.

When someone joins the Labour party, do we ask them why they joined, or about their interests, talents and passions, and how they want to be involved? Do we explain how our party works, our structures and processes, and how they can get involved?  And do we back and encourage them to make a real difference to their community?

Too often the answer is no. Yet with the talent, experience and commitment of our members, we can achieve great things. From Robert Blatchford’s Clarion Cycling Clubs to Movement for Change, community action has always been part of Labour’s tradition. But it’s never been central to our mission. And that needs to change.

While I may disagree that Movement for Change has had much beneficial impact, this is better than anything Corbyn has had to say set on devolution of power, and their are other parts of the speech touching on worker involvement and ownership.

If implemented in localities up and down the country, it might help Labour distinguish itself from the opposition in precisely those places we need to win in order to form the next government.

That’s a big IF, of course.

What I need to see, if she is to get to be my number 1 choice on the ballot paper, is some meat on the bones. I want to know how, under her leadership, the power structures within the labour movement might be shifted so as to allow the kind of initiatives she wants to see (see no 5 on my list), and how she might help resolve the inevitable but potentially healthy tensions [4] between local creativity (and proud local ownership of that creativity) and practical support for replication of good practice into other localities.

Even then, she might not make no.1, because Corbyn may have more to say and offer on both this and on the Overton shift.  Of  course, as things stands, it looks a little unlikely that Kendall will win, but in that event she should remember that Corbyn is unlikely to want to take Labour into 2020 anyway, and she should get quickly into position with the new Deputy Leader (probably Tom Watson) to focus on the hard graft of remodelling the way the party works, so that come 2018 a renewed candidature can start afresh from a different point of contact with the membership – one which helps get over her initial, arrogance-indicative approach to the welfare bill vote, in which she alienated a lot of members from the off by appearing to suggest that their deep-held principles of fairness counted for nothing. [3]

 

[1] Back in 2012, I said:

Put simply, In the Black Labour, and the new orthodoxy of fiscal restraint it has engendered (with impressive speed, it has to be said) could be very dangerous for Labour, and the country, in the long run, however appealing it appears to the smug strategists congratulating each other in Manchester this week.

I was right, though of course the ITBL advocates will (and do) argue that the shift their way didn’t happen soon enough and wasn’t embraced by Miliband firmly enough to make a difference to public perception about the party’s economic credibility.   I accept that this ‘what if’ question will never be resolved.  It’s time to move on.

[2] In terms of the Corbyn campaign, the key question is whether with his leadership the party might be able to shift that Overton window towards something more economically logical.   The cleverer Tories fear that he might, but my own fear is that his leadership will be in such hock to those who wish to ‘reset’ to 2008 (see no.8) that he’ll be unable to do so.  I hope I’m wrong.

[3] I suspect that Kendall deeply regrets this initial mistake, as it effectively stopped any potential for cross-party support.   She’d forgotten, I think, that her first pitch had to be to members, not to the wider public.  Her recent attempts to talk about the party’s way of doing things may reflect that new understanding.

[4] I do think some of the mid/late 2000’s literature on community empowerment might help the thinking here, and her grasp of all this is why I’d quite like to see Stella Creasy as deputy leader, as I think Tom Watson, behind the rhetoric and open style, has a very traditionalist conception of party organisation

Categories: Labour Party News
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