A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mutual suspicion

As a Councillor I have to confess I am more than a little bit sceptical about the pledge announced today to extend mutualisation of public services: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/mar/31/labour-election-mutualisation-pledge

I'm a mutualist as I'm in the Co-Op Party as well as Labour, but I'm also proud to be municipalist (a supporter of the maximum self-government of local areas, through councils running public services in the interests of local people) in the tradition of Hackney's former Mayor Herbert Morrison(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Morrison).

I'd always seen mutuals and co-ops as an alternative to capitalist forms of ownership, not as a way of councils off-loading their responsibility to deliver public services onto the service users. Surely the whole point about council services is that they are already mutual in that the policies that govern them and the political direction of them is set by the people in an area - the service users -electing some of their fellow residents - also service users - as councillors? Our focus for promoting mutuals should be on taking businesses out of the capitalist sector and into mutual ownership, not on taking services out of the public democratically-controlled sector.

Where there is genuine demand for a mutual solution to delivering services I'm all for it - a successful TMO (Tenant Management Organisation) runs one of the housing estates in my ward.

  • not every group of service users has the time, capacity, skills or desire to run the service. This is particularly the case in more deprived areas where people are under enough pressure running their own lives let alone running local public services. And on one level why should they? Most people quite rightly want to spend their time on their work and their family and leisure - they don't all want to get hands-on in running local schools or parks or libraries, they want someone to do it for them and the ability to kick them out of doing it if they screw up.
  • inevitably the group of users that would get most involved in running a service tends not to be representative of all users and is usually the people with the biggest axe to grind and the most time and energy - quite likely to be more middle class than the average service user.
  • in some cases user groups would advocate policies for the service that would conflict with the wider democratically arrived at policies of the local authority as a whole.

I hope that in pushing this Labour colleagues will not use it as an excuse to pass the buck on difficult spending decisions to service users, and will not forget that the bottom-line responsibility for delivering good public services needs to sit with the councillors who have been elected by the entire local electorate to do that job.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm all for local representatives that know the area too. Trouble is ... I live in Dalston and to the best of my knowledge none of my "local" councillors live locally. Sometime back I was trying to explain to one councillor (thankfully now gone) about a problem in one of our main streets and the person didn't even know which area of Dalston I was talking about! And in thirty five years I've never known one Labour councillor knock on my door in Dalston to canvas! I'd like local councillors who live and shop in the area and use local services.

Wouldn't you feel it were better if the Chatham ward was represented by people living in the area, rather than someone living in Stoke Newington? Where do your local councillors live?

Glad to see you're a member of the Co-op Party! You'd kept that hidden under a bushel.

As for an increase in mutualism, and your fear of it being led by the middle classes, wouldn't that threaten the status of SureStart schemes in Hackney (allegedly already overrun with posh mums)?

Mind you, on that point, you write: "inevitably the group of users that would get most involved in running a service tends not to be representative of all users and is usually the people with the biggest axe to grind and the most time and energy - quite likely to be more middle class than the average service user." Is there any one single area of political life where this is NOT the case?

3:18 pm, March 31, 2010

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

We tend to have a mixture of people running in the ward they live in and people swapping about. For instance although I represent Chatham Ward, I've got a guy who lives in Stamford Hill as one of my three represtatives in Stoke Newington Central and Chatham is actually a net exporter of councillors - providing folk who represent Leabridge, De Beauvoir and Wick wards, as well as my Chatham colleague Guy Nicholson.

We (candidates) don't get total control over where we run in the borough - you are expected to stand in whichever ward picks you first, with the choice being up to local ward members. The order in which they select is based on safeness so Chatham as safest or second safest ward got first pick in 2002 and went for me because of my record as a campaigner.

We try to balance gender and ethnicity of each team as well where we can which is another complicating factor.

In retrospect if I could turn back the clock to 2002 I can now see the advantage to running in the ward you live in - it's logistically easier - but I don't think I've ever been out of touch with my ward because of living 0.75 miles away. In fact I've probably over-compensated and had more contact with residents in order to keep my ear to the ground on local issues. I know more about the issues in Chatham - on a really micro block and street level - than I do about the area I live in. Politically I'm more paassionate about the big Chatham issues than perceived Stoke Newington ones - my passions are improving social housing and reducing anti-social behaviour whereas to be a Stokey rep you also need to major on recycling.

In a geographically very small borough I don't think insisting on having representatives who live in their own ward would necessarily get you the best representation.

Sorry you haven't been canvassed - we have spoken to just under 40% of the electorate across the constituency which is actually very good for a non-marginal borough. Hopefully we will contact a large number more - including you - in the next month.

3:58 pm, March 31, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Labour candidates and councillors too lazy to canvass their electorate, think they'll get elected by doing nothing

9:43 pm, March 31, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous - 40% for a non-marginal borough is actually pretty good. Bear in mind there's a % of people who you will never canvass because they'll either never be in, or it's always someone different in their household who answers the door. Also think how many people each councillor can realistically speak to every year if when they're canvassing they speak to on average 10 people an hour (which is my experience), and have a ward of somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 people (bear in mind again that some people will be spoken to more than once, or even several times).

10:20 am, April 01, 2010

Anonymous Matty said...

Good article Luke, I agree very much for once. I'm a big fan of co-ops and I also work in co-op development but like you I see co-ops as an alternative to capitalism.

11:45 am, April 01, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

Agree completely - the idea that everyone wants to be intimately involved with organising society is a myth.
I think the current fad for localism will soon dissipate if the Tories get in and people find out what it is really all about - cutting services and expecting volunteers to fill the gap.
And there is a question of accountability involved and I'm uncertain of how it might operate in some mutual situations

10:17 pm, April 02, 2010


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