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, July 09, 2008

Empowerment White Paper

As I was in local government geek mode today I've posted about my take on Hazel Blears' Empowerment White Paper, announced today, and related issues ranging from elected Mayors through electoral reform for local government, Foundation Hospital Board elections and tenant participation to "double devolution" over on the Progress website.


Blogger Newmania said...

The people with the most time to get involved in community life are not necessarily representative of the diversity of their fellow citizens, particularly not the most socially excluded.

Also those who are obliged to work for a living and say hi to their kids once in a while. What do you do for money Luke ?You seem to have an endless supply of spare time ?

11:14 pm, July 09, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

I also think that sometimes, there is too much emphasis placed upon involvement and not enough on simply receiving decent services.
I don't hear very much clamour about this sort of involvement, but plenty about the perception that services are not as they should be given the money put into them. In health care, its obvious why - all the money has gone on PFI payments! And just as the PPI Forums started to really do their job and expose some of these decisions, the Government abolished them and replaced them with poorly funded talking shops which they can fill with their placemen scared of speaking their mind for fear of losing funding.

Thats New Labour 'empowerment' for you.

As for elected mayors - no way, ever. I would vote Tory on principle if we ever ended up with this appalling system just to show how bad it can be and inevitably is. Boss politics at its worst.

What could be done is, first, get rid of the cabinet system and return to a modified committee system where expertise can be encouraged. second, remove the unqualified community advice worker role from councillors. It breeds corruption. A statutory local ombudsman service, totally independent of the Government or Council, should be able to deal with problems, not elected councillors who should be there to make policy. This role means that the number of councillors could and should be reduced.

12:42 am, July 10, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


Have almost fallen off my chair laughing!

I have next to no spare time.

I work as a Director of a PR company - average week I put in about 55 hours a week on the day job.

Then I do usually 2, sometimes 3 evenings a week on council business, plus casework & correspondence.

The other weekday evenings I've usually got childcare responsibilities as my partner is also a councillor and we have a 2 year old son.

Blogging gets fitted in early in the morning, lunchtimes or late at night after meetings.

7:58 am, July 10, 2008

Blogger Newmania said...

Try having a 2 year old on plus 2month old twins and then talk to me about time ,still good effort Luke. If you are ever an MP you would swell the ranks of Labour Party MPs who have ever had a proper job from 4 to 5.
I am not interested much in your hawkish solo foreign Policy much , although broadly in agreement . I am interested out of sheer curiosity in the development or not of a plausible Labour Party in the South , ( not including the inner-city ).It is now almost dead . I would never vote for it myself as I also dislike the progressive (soi-disdant) assumptions and much more. Others are not committed Conservatives though so don’t mind me .
For Labour to have any future IMHO some ordinary working people neither rich nor poor in the private sector must start thinking of the Labour Party as other than a visitation from another planet . It is awfully hard to find any now .
The current constituency is Public sector professionals, the subsidised Northern regions , immigrants , low grade unionised and usually public sector workers a smattering of Guardianistas as and career politicians /media types , obviously all those on welfare and benefits , older tribal Labour voters . The delay of the boundary commission in catching the exodus of the successful from Labour areas and the Scottish gerrymandering have disguised the weaknesses this alliance and it is clear that it cannot be the basis of any future . Notwithstanding current squalls Labour has to offer something to those who are not one way or another state dependents or wither away.( Even the threat of PR is losing its potency ...much as I detest it )

You seem to be on the right of the Party which must be the only part with a future so I am watching with great curiosity for any clues as to how this trick will be accomplished .The third way is a busted flush because it disguised collectivism with rhetoric . A genuine commitment to lower tax and smaller state solution s will IMHO opinion be required . I wonder what the Marxist gargoyle commentariart here-abouts make of that . Not that the insignificant numbers such vestigal elements represents matters much .

Cheery –bye

(Now I just have to convince the Conservative Party who if I read it right are planning to increase state spending initially and blame the Labour Party for bankrupting us to justify tax rises )

...eeek now I had better get back to work myself

11:31 am, July 10, 2008

Blogger Tom said...

I think that this is quality.

Foundation trusts look a lot nicer when it's local people running them.

the rest of the white paper is awesome too.

More democracy!

11:59 am, July 10, 2008

Blogger tory boys never grow up said...

I think Mike misses the point. This is about putting in place a means by which people can say what services they want and then hold those responsible for delivery to account. I'm afraid just giving the money to those responsible for delivering the services - with some bland demand for decent services doesn't guarantee instant success. Those responsible just tend to do what they think is good for themselves, first, and then secondly what they think is good for the recipients based on some preconceived notions. If you think public sector managers are really interested in the views of the users of their services you are sadly misguided.

You could of course use the old Tory means of market signals to give the providers the message regarding what is required - but I'm afraid that markets are not always efficient (look at oil price volatility if you want example) - so the third way is democratic involvement of the users (although you may want to argue

As for your criticism of PFI - do you really think that the existing management of the NHS and schools would really have been able to deliver all the new schools and hospitals that have been delivered - especially given that they had next to no experience in delivering infrastructure projects over the preceding 30/40 years prior to 1997. Yes - some PFI providers did take naive politicians/officials for a ride financially - but that argues for a better understanding of markets and how they work, rather than ignoring the private sector. Do you think that if the NHS managers were building their own hospitals that they wouldn't have been overcharged by the builders or have to pay extra when their project planning fell apart.

As for Newmania - don't think that the private sector is a paragon of virtue. There are plenty of private sector entities where the suppliers are quite happy to treat their customers like dirt - the privatised utiliites and much of the financial sector spring to mind - and where a good dose of market based regulation would not go amiss (there is good regulation and bad regulation but that is another story - and one where this government's record is pretty mixed)

I think you will find that there is plenty of life left in the old social democratic dog of managed and regulated markets - perhaps you would like to comment on the efficiency of most commodity markets at the present time.

1:08 pm, July 10, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We should have devolution across the whole of the UK with parliaments in Northern England, Cornwall, Yorkshire etc:. These regions would be able to stand up for themselves then. English politics and UK politics is dominated by London.

3:32 pm, July 10, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

No, Toryboy, you haven't understood what I am saying.

I think that the current obsession with involvement is largely a smokescreen to cover the fact that people are not happy with delivery - and I think that the way that the government have dealt with participatory activity which is critical of them is exactly why

Having experienced the PCT in action I can well understand that public sector management leaves a lot to be desired m largely because they do not dare to stand up to New labour-speak and blather on about 'modernisation', an utterly meaningless term.

I'm very much in favour of participation, although I do think that people should do what they get paid for, and that there needs to be a clear demarcation between the roles of different bodies. But I have very little trust in this government in its ability to make it meaningful, particularly given Hutton's statement this morning. Contracted out services are simply a law unto themselves.

I really don't like the new labour outcomes or the sort of services which Hutton and Co promote,and I now want them to lose the next election as I see no other way of achieving change within the Labour party. Given that Tory policies are so similar, the fright factor won't work any more.

Managed and regulated markets are not social democracy - markets had a very limited place (read Crosland) and the embrace of the market by NL is their biggest mistake and no longer befits them being seen as a left-of-centre party.

That's why I don;t want to vote for them next time. If I have to vote for a pro market party then I'll support one which isn't also authoritarian, unless there's a Green candidate.

4:21 pm, July 10, 2008

Blogger tory boys never grow up said...

Mike - i did read the Future of Socialism , admittedly a very long time ago - but nevertheless you view that he did not see a role for managed and regulated markets as part of a mixed economy (i am not arguing that the state has no role)is very wide of the mark, and it was the main reason why Crosland was very much criticised at the time.

The problem with what you saying is that you are not proposing any sensible alternative. I might share some of your criticisms about the way the Government has managed the process and the language used - but that does not mean that the underlying procees isn't the right one to follow. Do you seriously think that the NHS and public services can be run without any interaction with the private sector - who would build the schools and hospitals, where would the missing management skills be obtained from??

Quite frankly I would rather try and push the Government onto the right track, rather than rely on a Conservative Government which will try and make a market in everything and under the skin has very little commitment to a mixed economy. Remember how Bush was elected on a platform of social consevatism - Cameron appears to be following that bluepring very closely at present.

5:22 pm, July 10, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Mike’s thesis on Crosland is quite right. The moderate social democracy he explained in his seminal work "The Future of Socialism" bears no relation to the New Labour model. He talked about a means to an end, basically the state did not have to nationalise companies to created equaltity; they could instead regulate them to get the required result. Instaed what we have now are the conditions for rampant capitalism yet no attempt to try a created the fair and equal society Crosland had envisioned through redistribution.

It's well known I am no moderate, I consider myself on the hard left, but I have a strong respect for Crosland. He was naive though. He believed the mixed economy of the post war concenus would remain.

He said

"The most characteristic features of capitalism have disappeared - the absolute rule of private property, the subjection of all life to market influences, the domination of the profit motive, the neutrality of government, typical laissez-faire division of income and the ideology of individual rights."

To be fair to the old man he could not have predicted the Mrs Thatchers and the Newsmanias of this world.

I used to think it was a shame the New Labourites in the party seem to distance themselves from Crosland, but now I think he would be spinning in his grave at what we are doing.

5:50 pm, July 10, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

But markets were not to be the3 tail wagging the dog - thats the difference. They were sinply to be used where appropriate - nowm no-one could argue that NL haven't gone very much further than that. Which is fine if that's what you believe, and I was certainly prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

But it hasn't proved successful, and the outcome has been that large amounts of public spending has simply gone into the pockets of the private sector. PFI being the most obvious example (and try and find anyone working in the grass roots of the NHS who believes in PFI...)

The alternative is to keep the NHS public, and to actively reverse the contracting and commissioning process. There is no need to embark upon PFI to build hospitals - it was a short termist measure to reduce initial expenditure, but a trojan horse for long and medium term debt and waste. Read Alyson Pollock's excellent research on this topic, and the material produced by the Socialist Health Association.

The Government simply won;t be pushed on to the right track because too many within it really believe that the New Labour ideas are right. I don't. So, I think the only way forward may be to have a time of Tory government - the policies will be largely the same - and that will give time for Labour to rethink and recognise that much of what New Labour stood for was an experiment which failed. You clearly don't have any fundamental problems with the NL approach, whereas I do. For me the Government must change direction radically in a number of areas to make me think it is worth voting for them again. Or we will just carry on in the same vein.

5:50 pm, July 10, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Absolutely right, Ravi. But its that Croslandite social democracy which I still think is the best way forward. I think he would be horrified by new labour although he was very much a social progressive and would have approved of some of the radical cultural changes, as I have done. Problem is, most of those have now been done and all we seem to have left is market madness and elements of social authoritarianism, with the odd flash of Harmanite liberalism!

5:54 pm, July 10, 2008

Blogger Newmania said...

Tory Boy- I agree markets are not always efficient but to be fair you are discussing oligopolies which are something of a special case. I still suspect the culture of accountability has good effects but obviously the advantage will be debatable.

Take education a clear failure and a vital one . It has been found that by allowing entry into the state system on equal terms ( ie =vouchers per pupil) the state setcor itself rapidly improves wherby market entrants never become the mainstay in Holland. This is the sort of fresh air to let into the NUT world of indifference.

In some ways you are too ashamed of the the public sector . Actually it can compete and its institutions hold much accumulated value . The commmon experience that a relatively small market driven incursion into a sector can have a large effect on the whole is , I feel the right direction .

Your view that Conservatives are all rabid Libertarians is not the whole story by any means but it does depend where we start from . I frankly doubt there is much to be gained from quasi democratic gimmicks . You are either a customer or a nuisance and the only vote you cast anyone cares about is the one you cast with your feet.
People want power not sham Consultation and micro politcal cliques , they are used to it in their lives and for many the occassional visit to the Coucil is like a trip back in time.

PS Of course the other point about PFI projects was to diguise the terrifying level of borrowing this admninistration has lumbered us with.

5:58 pm, July 10, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who chooses to use the "word" (?!) "Harmanite" as an indication of any kind of political tendency is an idiot who deserves to have his comments ignored on all issues.

3:04 am, July 11, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, if not "Harmanite" how about "Akehurshite"?

10:53 am, July 11, 2008


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