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Reflections on Rotherham: part 2 of 3

September 8, 2014 Leave a comment

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 [1].

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 [2], 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 [3], 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 [4].

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.

 

 

[1] 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.

[2] 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?

[3] 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.

[4] 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)

 

 

Daily member union link shocker

September 3, 2014 Leave a comment

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.

 

Categories: Labour Party News

A quick question on Labour’s National Policy Forum

July 24, 2014 1 comment

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 .

and then

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Labour Party News

In (angry) defence of Jon Cruddas

June 29, 2014 1 comment

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.

 

 

 

How Labour should outflank Cameron on the Juncker question

It is starting to look like Cameron will fail in his quest for someone other than Jean-Claude Juncker to be President of the European Commission.  John Major being wheeled out to argue that the whole anti-Juncker thing is a gambit to ensure greater UK influence by another route certainly suggests the Tories know the game is up.

It’s good that Cameron will have egg all over his face, and it is to be hoped that, as Juncker takes up his position (assuming a yes vote in the European parliament) at least some of the press will start to ask questions like:

Why did Cameron take the Tories out of the EPP political grouping, leading it to have no say in the Spitzenkandidat process which was completed in March?

Why didn’t Cameron speak up about the Spitzenkandidat process back in 2012 when it was first worked up by the two main European parliament groupings?  Why is it only now that he thinks the process is an insult to democracy?  Did he simply not understand what was going on across Europe?

Even if these questions are asked though, and Cameron’s absurd EU-illiteracy is exposed for it is, the news cycle is such that it’ll be old news come the Autumn – unless, that is, Labour keep it there.  Fortunately, Labour can do just that,  and in  a way which not only keeps the heat on Cameron through the winter, but which -more importantly – is good for the citizens of the EU as well.  It goes like this:

1) Article 234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union allow for a motion of censure of the Commission President, which if passed by a two thirds majority, forces the resignation of the President and his commissioners (whom he will have appointed).

2) Labour MEPs, operating in collaboration with their SPD colleagues should make a specific set of social-democratic demands on Juncker early in his presidency (e.g. that Juncker should organize the repealing of the anti-Keynesian six-pack pushed through by the right in 2011, in favour an agreement focused on social and economic stability, or that Juncker should bring forward Lisbon-consistent ways of balancing richer nation states’ desire for temporary restrict freedom of movement of people with the interests of poor countries in restricting some freedom of movement of goods and services).

3) If Juncker and his Commission complies, then it’s a win for the left.  If not, they should go about campaigning for his censure, across the political groups.  Tory MEPs, in their new political grouping, would be embarrassed at the very least if they had to vote for a continuation of a Juncker presidency, and UKIP’s votes, abstentions or strategic absence would also be spotlighted.

4) Overall, this would be cast as Labour taking socialist action through its validly elected representatives, set against the Cameron ego-trip.

At the moment, the Labour strategy is wrong.  Glenys Kinnock and Miliband have been foolishly advised, and committed MEPs to a vote against Juncker on the first occasion, when he up for election following the European Council’s nomination (in accordance with 17(7) of the Treaty of the European Union.   This may seem an attractive anti-Juncker position, but it is very short-term, destined to failure because the rest of the SPD and the EPP is committed to maintaining the legitimacy of the Spitzenkandidat process, and is therefore an insult to SPD colleagues across Europe, who are disappointed in the first place that UK Labour did not embrace Martin Schulz as the SPD candidate.

There is still time for Labour to change course, and both reintegrate itself with the SPD following its Schulz mistake and be seen as a leading mover for proper reform within the EU.  But that time is short.

 

Labour’s public service reform planning: a return to Laski

June 16, 2014 3 comments

Giles Wilkes, now out on licence from Whitehall, has compared the fiscal plans of Labour, the LibDems and the Tories.   He  finds that the LibDems and Labour’s plans are “credible”, while the Tory ones are not.  This is not a surprise, but it’s good of him to do the adding up.

What interests me more about his piece, though, is not Giles’ attempt to establish common ground for a Lib-Lab coalition, but his casual dismissal of the whole idea of public services reform:

No doubt this debate will continue to be evaded over the next few months.  Some will claim tax rises; others will claim unspecified or unrealistic benefits cuts.  Others will hope not to have to spell things out, and others will claim magic further efficiency savings (my emphasis).

So is there any hope of getting more for our money from public services?

Yes there is, and Giles is wrong.

As is Rick.  And as is Anthony.  And as is Andrew.  As is Richard.  As is Hopi.  As is Atul.  As is, utterly and totally, Janan.  All cleverer than me, all wrong.

All of them, in their own way, seek to take the moral high ground, by arguing that cuts and or tax rises are inevitable, and that Labour is either damaging itself electorally in the short term by not telling the truth and therefore not exuding economic competence (Anthony, Atul, Andrew, Hopi) acting dishonestly by avoiding that inevitability, in a way which will hurt electorally later when the cuts and taxes do come (Rick, Giles, Janan).  Meanwhile, over in the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) corner, Richard argues that Labour are preparing to make savage cuts because they’re too cowardly and/or ignorant to get MMT.[1]

But what apparently none of them have noticed – or perhaps preferred to ignore – is that Labour is seriously committed to public services reform, and has for the past few months been carefully working up a programme for government which will deliver both desirable and affordable public service outcomes over the long-term.   I’ve already covered the main elements of this programme, which hinges on what Jon Cruddas has (now more than once and quite deliberately) referred to as “investment in preventing social problems“, a commitment to making ‘relational services’ actually happen through that investment and a mix of decentralization and innovation within the treasury which allow us to bring in the initial resources for that upfront investment, on the costed basis of huge downstream savings to the public purse.

What interests me here is not the emerging detail for that programme – and there will be more of that in the IPPR report to be released to great Labour fanfare on Thursday and then over the summer – but why and how such eminent commentators have failed to notice that the zero-based review, which is largely about departmental efficiency and is being managed by Chris Leslie, is dwarfed in importance by the policy review process being chaired by Jon Cruddas and the Decentralization Decade project being run, again, by IPPR, in conjunction with Price Waterhouse Coopers and others.

The answer is, I think, quite straighforward, and welcome.   The public service reform planning process has been set up and delivered out of sight of the myopic commentariat, who may claim to understand how Labour does or should work (I don’t include Giles here) but is in fact utterly ignorant of what’s been happening.  The Labour policy review, which has mostly been about public services [2], has been a mostly in-house affair, co-ordinated through the Your Britain website, and the many, many submissions that have been made by CLPs and other informed bodies, then weighted for support, scored, assessed and taken into account by Jon’s team, have been well below the commentariat radar.  IPPR too, who as Labour’s closest  and most capable think-tank have pulled a lot of the thinking on relational services together, have for the most part operated out of the limelight, though this will start to change this week (as above)

This is policy development as it should happen, and a refreshing change from the diktat days of New Labour.   This time around Labour has harnessed the power of the web properly, and within a clear set of parameters gone about taking on board the informed view of party members and others sympathetic enough to the cause to want to have their informed say.

Yes, I would have liked to have seen somewhat different parameters set in the first place, and that might have been the case but for the somewhat toxic legacy of In the Black Labour (to that extent I do agree with Richard Murphy and others), and yes, some of the timetable has been a bit out of kilter, with the need to draw forward some commitments before they are fully costed and agreed [3].   But with those caveats (and when we’re in power and doing public service differently, the parameters can start to shift), it’s been great to see a Labour party policy process which, more than any time in my lifetime, has had proper input from public servants in the labour movement, at the expense of those who think its their right to be told what’s going on, and who are completely flummoxed by a process which doesn’t pander to the think-tank elite, but largely bypasses them.

A return of Labour party policy to the labour  movement – who’d have thought it? I am reminded, in fact, of Harold Laski’s 1924 views on how government should be run (before the internet):

But predominantly the corrective [to posh people in Whitehall knowing bugger all about real life] is most largely to be supplied by the system of advisory committees  discussed above.  For there the official will be compelled to measure his knowledge and experience against a much wider variety than is now the case.  He will less and less draw his conclusions from reading of reports, the arguments he can think of in an office; he will more and more tend to build hem out of personal contact wiith business men trade unionists, doctors, school teachers. (p.400)

Perhaps Ralph did read the right bedtime stuff to Ed, after all.

 

 

[1] In his piece, Giles is also caustically dismissive of the MMT and similar positions, which surprises me a little:

There have been those on the Right somehow denying that there has been any austerity, and those on the Left somehow acting as if the idea of eventually bringing your budget into some sort of balance is a wicked contrived plot.  Yes, why on earth should a government inheriting a £159bn deficit be thinking at all about public spending restraint? Must be a conspiracy.

Before his Coalition SpAD sentence, he seemed a little more open to the pretty reasonable accounting identity argument now put forward by Richard and, more importantly, Chris Dillow.

All we get is a shifting balance between private and public assets and debts, in the absence of a massive international imbalance. Which means we can always afford to resolve either private or public indebtedness with a political solution, if we are brave enough.

But why exactly is 75% of GDP in public debts, owned by the private sector and paying just 4-5% interest, a problem – when the private sector needs such instruments?

That is a question Conservatives bury under the term ‘burdening our children with debts’.  It is just as much ‘providing our pensioners with assets’.

For myself, while I think the whole accounting identity argument holds water, I just think the thinking hard bit of the UK left needs to accept that we’ve lost that battle for now, and that we should focus on supporting Labour, either as activists or commentators (preferably both) to work its way towards and then sell to the electorate the kind of social investment programme I outline above, and for which I have stressed the urgent need elsewhere.  This includes arguing for social investment, through stable employment, as part of Andrew Adonis’ growth review, another bit of Labour’s  careful government programming work.

[2] I am reminded here of Janan’s pithily correct “all politics are fiscal” in his otherwise excruciatingly poorly informed attack on Ed Miliband’s and Labour’s plans.

[3]  As James Mackenzie has pointed out to me, one of the key drivers for the speeding up of the timetable for announcing Labour’s programme for government may well be the risk of a Yes vote in Scotland.  I hope, contra James, that it’s not too late.

Improving child protection and family support

enhanced-31052-1402589737-2 (2)While it’s utterly scandalous that the tabloid media has apparently gone and done a cheap photoshop on the picture of Ed Miliband getting ready to get to grips with our submission to the Labour policy review, the important thing is that it has been lodged and that he is clearly taking a keen interest.

The submission is online at the party’s policy review website ‘Your Britain’ (see below if you’re not registered).   If you do read it and support the nine recommendations made, please do take a moment to leave a comment, as evidence of online support is important in getting it up the league table of submissions to be taken seriously.

And it is a very serious submission.

 

Pdf:  SUBMISSION TO LABOUR POLICY REVIEW

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