600,000 sign up to vote for Corbyn

August 13, 2015 Leave a comment

The Mirror is reporting that 600,000 people have signed up as affiliated supporters of the Labour Party. I’m going to go out on a limb to suggest they’re not joining to vote for Liz fucking Kendall. They’ve signed up because a glimpse of light has smashed through the Blairite miasma, and offered a simple way people can fight back against austerity.

Rewind five years. John McDonnell launched a campaign to be Labour leader. He was immediately deluged with attacks by the soft left in Labour, and the media raked over his comments on the IRA. Meanwhile the Labour leadership – including Harriet Harman and Ed Balls – used a spoiler candidate in the form of Diane Abbott to counteract the huge pressure from constituencies, which was acknowledged by that bastion of Labour hackery, Tom Harris.

In the intervening five years, austerity has ratcheted up the pressure on the working class. Meanwhile, sections of the capitalist class are rebelling against austerity. The conflict between elements in the IMF and EU, calling for major debt relief for Greece, motivated by fear of a social explosion, shows this, even if so many prominent economists (the lawyers of the capitalist elite) weren’t sounding such cautious notes on austerity.

For this reason, even a (suitably contained) Corbyn-led Labour Party could be a viable Plan B, should the worst come to the worst in the debate over Europe, from the point of view of the capitalist class. It became quickly evident at the outset of the leadership  competition that from the point of view of ordinary people, Labour has no one else credible left in its ranks. This is the last card to play before, driven by austerity, Pasokification takes hold, as the masses continue to search for any political method of combating austerity.

From the point of view of a TUSC-supporting Socialist Party member, you’d think that I’d be backing one of the other candidates, all the better to steer people to TUSC over the next few years. That would be a shockingly narrow and sectarian view. I want Corbyn to win – wholeheartedly and with no reservations. I think it’s the best thing possible for the working class – because for these 600,000 and beyond, it will raise hopes, which Labour cannot meet. It will raise confidence, which Labour, and the centrist Labourite drones in the affiliated unions, can’t match. And when the Right apparatus and PLP move against Corbyn, which they will, it will be a sharper lesson for the watching masses than all the articles Marxists can write.

Let’s not forget that Labour’s bureaucracy has already kicked out 1,200 people who have tried to join. These include people like Mark Steel, who is an unaffiliated socialist, to the best of my knowledge. The reason given was that he did not share the Labour Party’s aims and values. The only reason more people haven’t been kicked out is probably because these 600,000 are mostly names on a page to the CLPs, who would quite happily kick out socialists, if they could identify them.

A Corbyn-led party will not magically change in its fundamentals. Let those – many of the readers and former readers of this blog included – beware who said that Miliband and his “refounding Labour” schtick represented the end of Blairism. Blairism is not contained in one organisation, such as Progress; it is a political expression of the degeneration of Labour’s membership and decomposition of its link to the working class. Blairism infects even the groups of the left, like the LRC, whose logic in voting for cuts at council level is no different from the open Blairites, “we must keep within the limits of the possible, we can only influence things if we win seats.”

This logic represents the collapse of class consciousness, but also furthers that collapse – because on this basis, the people attracted to Labour aren’t the sort of people we want. They’re the middle class do-gooders, who are appalled by what the Tories have done and who are prepared to vote for anyone saying they’ll stop it, so long as it comes across as quite genteel. They are doomed to continual disappointment. Moreover they are a political deadweight when it comes to the key task of activating and organising the working class on the basis of their clear thirst for anti-austerity, socialist ideas. They don’t understand the problem of our time in these terms and many would run screaming from the actual working class if suddenly it awoke.

Nowhere is this more visible than in Stand Up to UKIP, in my view; the practice of denouncing all Kippers as racists and substituting direct action for trying to engage with the very real concerns of huge swathes of the working class is utterly counter-productive and divides out the middle class political day trippers from the masses. Not to say that counter-demos don’t have their place by the way, but if that sort of thing is all you’re doing then you’re not laying the basis for a mass response to the pernicious lies of UKIP, and their aiders and abetters in Labour and the Tory parties. These types, the do-gooders, caught up in the hype, will likely vote Corbyn – and that’s great, I think, but they don’t have the chops for the battle with Blairism in Labour, or austerity. For that reason I still think re-joining Labour is ultimately a dead end, though I and other Marxists will watch with interest to see if any of this 600,000 get involved in any way; personally I doubt they will, post election contest.

Like the huge votes for UKIP, however, who were all things to all men, at the last election, uniting little Englanders with animal rights campaigners, former Labourites with anti-immigrant Tories, workers with the hang em and flog em petit-bourgeoisie, it’s what Corbyn’s leadership explosion signifies that matters. The masses are still seeking a way out – passively, still, for the minute. The key struggle will be to end that passivity – and a Corbyn leadership, and the lessons it teaches, can help with that.

A writer on this blog, on Though Cowards Flinch, has attempted to disagree. He suggests, in an article written prior to Corbyn’s successful nomination, that we’ll still be left battling the roots of Blairism, and therefore that focusing on the leadership is a distraction. Interestingly this echoes similar comments made when John McDonnell was fighting to be nominated five years ago; I permitted myself some navel gazing and went back to read my oeuvre from that period, though back then Paul was quick to genuflect that he’d do his utmost to get John McD elected if he was nominated.

This view is only possible if you have a static view of the Labour Party, and of the working class. Anyone with an eye on the working class could tell you that with a Blair or a Burnham at the top of the Party and in league with the apparatus, there is no hope of convincing ordinary working class people to join and that therefore the battle for change is over before it began. It doesn’t follow that they’ll join with Corbyn in charge – but there’s a better chance, as has been found with this avalanche of affiliated members joining.

Not for nothing but socialists often challenge in unions for positions like the presidency, as it actually raises their profile and attempts to connect their programme to the rank and file. Often they win the presidency before they win the NEC of these unions. They use that position to highlight the clear programmatical differences with the union right, which is precisely what the press, what Blair and no few others have done with Corbyn, thereby cementing his popularity, it seems.

The Labour Party is a very different beast to unions, being to the right of the most right wing unions like Unison, which overturned its own leadership at a recall conference, or Usdaw, in which an open socialist got 45% of the vote for President. But the underlying principle is the same; however small your cadre, you must connect with the masses. Everything else is just an over-intellectualised circle-jerk.

 

Categories: General Politics

De-legitimising the leadership contest

August 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Simon Danczuk has joined NOLSie puke John Mann, veteran committee waffler Barry Sheerman and Graham Stringer in calling for the suspension and re-running of the Labour leadership campaign. Hands up who thinks it’s because they’re worried Liz Kendall is going to win? No, I didn’t think so either.

Several figures, such as Angela Eagle, have come out to defend Corbyn. They have no love for his politics, but they recognise that if the Blairite apparatus of the Labour Party acts against Corbyn now, when he’s poised to win, there will be an explosion. Much better to give him a chance and let the polls kill him.

And let’s be clear, I think that’s exactly what will happen. Faced with infighting, and briefing of the press by his enemies, and a policy process he doesn’t control, Corbyn’s Labour Party could go right off the poll deep end, not to mention the increasing danger of a split if he consolidates this left surge. They’ll be ably assisted by the media; the BBC had two speakers on this morning demanding a halt to the leadership process and none defending it.

This wouldn’t happen to any of the other three, who don’t remotely challenge the defeatist orthodoxy of Labour; they each just try and put a shine on it. This is why watching their internet videos is like waking up to find someone shit on your bed, while Corbyn is packing out meetings of hundreds.

Categories: General Politics

Vote Corbyn

August 11, 2015 7 comments

The words of the Red Flag, recalling the old class divide of cloth caps versus bowler hats and cravats might seem outdated – but I apply them to this blog. Having dispensed with notions of class, and retreated substantially in terms of what it views as the limits of the possible – to the point of even considering supporting Liz Kendall – this once aptly-named blog has hauled down the scarlet standard and hidden it away, in favour of a lot of modish policy wonkery that doesn’t even make sense in the changed world post-Corbyn explosion.

Not to say there aren’t valid critiques here and there; recently the article Outsourcing Reality was a classic critique of the form privatisation has been taking in many areas. It neatly skewers the point that Tory stats and their promises (and those of their Blairite equivalents) all sound fine and dandy but aren’t reflected in the reality of the changes they make. However these limited, positive contributions are utterly nullified by the cringing posture of articles such as “10 More Hard Truths for Labour”. The author does not understand Capital, nor the nature of the neoliberal state. This is outlined clearly by talk of a compact between Capital and the State, as representing a Corbynite Third Way. He does not understand the nature of class, nor the transformation that is coming for the working class, whose instinct of solidarity he pronounced dead.

As a result, the author too begins shadow boxing, like the Tories he critiques in the outsourcing article mentioned above. He declares that only if Labour wins can they effect change; herein lies the nub of the problem. The working class as conceived by Marxism is nowhere in any of the many pages of analysis here – and as a result there is no understanding of what Corbyn represents (though I suspect the author is now probably close to Luke Akehurst’s eloquent view, as described at Labour List); of what world is being opened up post-Scotland, post-Syriza and, potentially, post-UKIP, as a Tory victory poses starkly to the working class, organised and unorganised, the need for an alternative.

This and only this is the explanation for 50,000 and more affiliated supporters flocking to Labour, to back Corbyn. These people come from far beyond the immediate reach of the smaller parties or organised groups within Labour. Centrist capitalists and their attorneys, like Stiglitz and Krugman, have cautiously welcomed the continuing emergence of anti-austerity figures because they see austerity as a systematic threat to capitalism. It is. Under it’s pressure the working class has grown restless, and sharp changes have become possible, even explosions. Not for nothing was it said that the London riots of 2011 were the heat lightning of a coming storm.

That storm has been delayed. The key problem of our time is one of leadership; as a result of defeats and retreats in consciousness, the working class has found its institutions in the charge of its enemies. The usual cynics, with no programme for change of their own except to dress in nice clothes and produce colourful charts with which to beseech our lords and masters for table scraps, will remark wryly that this is the usual Trotskyist hypothesis. It’s not so reductive an assertion as they suggest and it is true. Where a combative, pragmatic leadership has existed, defences have been mounted and concessions won, and the consciousness of the class raised – but only a general mobilisation can stop the Tory General Offensive.

The natural allies of Burnham, who form a majority of the leadership of Unison and Unite, find themselves caught in a tightening vice, with austerity pushing the working class onwards and the Tories now unleashed to push back. To back anyone but Corbyn, at a time when the Tories are gearing up for all out war on the unions, and when he had the momentum building behind him out of the inchoate anger of the lead elements of the class, would have spelt doom for the Labour affiliation, for the vacillating leaderships of those unions and potentially for both. The task of socialists within those unions is to ensure it still does.

Yet in this context, our noble author flirts with the most open of open Blairites, and the phrase “modernised trade unionism” is repeated a few times. Liz has flirted with the idea of online balloting, which unions would largely agree with, as even a small ballot can cost £300,000. But this is to mistake the window dressing for the reality; Liz Kendall, and Burnham and Cooper, would leave intact chunks of the new Tory anti legislation, would throw a few bones in our direction and would then resume the same off-shoring, privatising, Third Sector dependent approach of Blairism and Big Society.

Cruddas, finally exposed as what I’ve called him all along, a Blairite, has turned to polling data to argue that Labour must stick within the limits of the possible, must not alienate moderates, must not be seen as anti-austerity. The Labour Right, like Luke Akehurst, have argued that Corbyn has a limited appeal and all of it is mobilised inside Labour, suggesting that Corbyn is doomed to defeat when he faces the wider electorate. Kinnock had the temerity to argue outright that Corbyn is unelectable, despite losing two General Elections. All of these singing Cassandras will no doubt be part of the cabals clearly visible even on Twitter attempting to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy.

None of them can escape the huge and powerful turn towards Corbyn – which might actually give the working class the confidence it needs to screw the courage of our leaders to the sticking place, to take on the anti-union legislation and to answer the call of PCS, to coordinate strike action for the day these laws are debated in the Commons. This turn happens at just the moment when crucial struggles are underway; an all out strike at the national gallery, action on the railways and underground, and in the London councils who are pioneering the anti-union attacks the Tories have now announced will be made law.

In the face of all this it is criminal to speak of anyone but Corbyn for leader of the Labour Party. I’m a Marxist and a Trotskyist; I am a member of the Socialist Party. I know that, like Tsipras, we’ll have to steer the mass of the working class past the future paralysis of a Corbyn government, just as our allies in Xekinima are trying to do in Greece. Sooner still, the debate on Europe might shipwreck any leader standing too close to the hated European bourgeoisie, as people have seen what the EU is through the prism of Greece and may get another glimpse after the Spanish elections. Yet it would be an act of ultra-left madness not to recognise that a Corbyn victory is a huge step forward. I agree wholeheartedly with the analysis of Socialist Party comrades that whatever happens next, the question of an anti-austerity party is now firmly on the agenda – but I don’t think it will be Labour, which the Right will sink rather than evacuate if evacuation means leaving it in the hands of whatever stunted and twisted left remains within it. Therefore I will not join Labour – but equally I will not allow the vacillation and think-wankery this blog has descended into to go unanswered.

A word of epilogue. Paul and I used to share a passing interest in Habermas; communication theory was developed in response to what the Frankfurt School conceived of as a crisis of legitimacy. They believed struggle had departed the economic sphere and moved into the political – that capitalism could be managed. It was Capital that proved them wrong, and buried the Frankfurt school. This is the fate of all of those who believe accommodations with Capital are possible – and those people, unless they learn from their patent mistakes, cannot stand under our banner.

Categories: General Politics

New Migrant Army

August 7, 2015 5 comments
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The signing of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

In 1991, when Jeremy Corbyn spoke at the first reading of his 10 minute rule bill on more efficient and humane responses to asylum seekers, he framed what he proposed within the legal requirements of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees:

The 1951 convention on refugees, which was agreed at Geneva in July 1951, defines a refugee as someone who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a political social group, or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. That was what was agreed after the second world war about those seeking political asylum. Since then, the issue has grown in importance throughout the world.

Looking at the situation in Calais, on Lesbos, and in the Mediterranean, I wonder if he would do the same, if he were presenting the same bill.

The Convention of 1951 was drafted at the height of the cold war [1], and was aimed particularly at thee situation facing refugees from behind the Eastern side of the iron curtain.  As such, it made a then valid basis that the people seeking refugee status were/would be doing because they couldn’t depend on their country state of nationality to protect them from persecution.  Within this lay the assumption that states had the capacity to protect from persecution, whether or not did so.

Demonstrably, in the early 21st century, this assumption on longer hold true.  Several states or parts of states across the middle-East, the Maghreb and into Western Africa no longer have the capacity to defend any more than a percentage of their citizens, even if they were minded to.  As a result, Jeremy Corbyn’s 1991 notion that the Convention was about “political asylum” has become outdated.  Those seeking refuges outside their (ex)-country of nationality are doing so because otherwise they are likely to be killed, whatever their political views, whatever their religion.  They are likely to be killed because those doing the killing have the means to do so that used only to belong to the state, and because they like killing large numbers of people.

In these new circumstances, the old distinctions between migration for economic reasons and migration away from persecution have become entirely redundant.  Not wanting to be dead, as a reason for fleeing as a refugee, trumps them.   I asked Owen Jones, when he went off to Calais, to ask people there whether they had any idea what the difference is between economic migration and the seeking of refuge.  I don’t know if he did, but I can guess the answers anyway.

This new reality, it seems to me, demands a new way of looking at the problem.  Paradoxically. perhaps, the best way to look at it may be to go back to before the 1951 Convention, and see how we dealt with mass migration before and during the second world war.  Or perhaps not so paradoxically – in 10 or 30 years time, we may have recognized that the years between 2012 and 2015 (the collapse of the Libyan and Syrian states) constituted the start of the third world war, very different from the second in that it is fought between states and non-states, but just as remorselessly bloody.

When people escaped to Britain in the run up to and the early days of the second world war, there was an implicit pact.  Britain will protect you, but does so on the basis that you’ll help with the fight against the enemy, so that in time you win back your country.  That might be by joining the airforce, or it might be by engaging in the war effort within Britain, but people were expected to contribute.  Of course, for the most part the pact did not need to be explicitly enforced.  After the war, those wanting to stay did so. Many thousands did.  Their grandchildren amd great-grandchildren are British.

I wonder, aloud, whether it’s time to be thinking about a new such pact.  In Calais, right now, we have a large number of able-bodied (though many will be mentally scarred) young men who could conceivably offered the deal I first sketched here:

Rather than let migrants drown or subject crossing survivors either to unfair asylum processes or lives of illegality, let’s invite those younger, able-bodied ones to join a new international migrant army, whose job it is is to defeat Daech/Al Quaeida/Taliban/Boko Haram military.  Here are the terms:

  • If you end up as a trans-Sahara migrant in Libya or Morocco, or if you’re in Calais, or Greece, and want to ‘earn your passage’ to a life in Europe, you can join a highly-disciplined UN-authorised army, where you will be fed, clothed, and equipped for battle;
  • If you serve a one year training and two years of service honourably, you will be entitled to residence in a EU country, and after a further year , in recognition of your military service and settlement, your close family may join you.

That’s it.  There’s  a need for people to fight Daech et al.  There are people.  Many will already have some military training, however poor. They are currently being drowned/fenced in/hunted down. They could fight for their freedom, with pretty good odds, and decent reward.

Is this ethical?  Probably not.

Would it work? There would be major complications along the way, not least because of the need to change the very core of what the UN is for (or do it otherwise).  It’s also overly focused, obviously, on young men.

Is it more sensible than longer fences and chasing traumatised people with dogs? Probably.

Should it replace interim plans to develop a more coherent and humane approach to management of the current crisis? No, but even starting to talk in terms of migrants as people who might fight for their homeland might start to change the Cameronian ‘swarm’ discourse.

Is it worth starting to think outside the box, given that the world is starting to slide towards chaos? Yes, I think so. And it’s already happening in the US.

 

[1] In 1951, the well-founded fear had to come from events related to the second world war.  The definition was extended in 1967.  See here for useful background. It’s from a few years ago and being Australian focus on the boat people crisis, but covers some of the same doubts as I do about the applicability of the Convention to changing and enlarged flows of refugees.

Categories: General Politics

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

Outsourcing reality (part I)

August 5, 2015 Leave a comment

I come a little late to this, but here’s Giles Fraser on how the police are now the social services of last resort.

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, 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 will be along in part II.

 

Categories: General Politics

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.

 

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