Sunday, 15 May 2011

People First for the Coalition

Or Labour can carry on being what it is now: risk-averse, ill-defined, dull and complacent in its assumption that the failings of the other side will coast them to power. Well, that worked a treat in Scotland, didn't it? suggests Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer, less than seven months after Ed Miliband became Labour's bright new leader.

Meanwhile, a salutary piece from Tim Luckhurst in the Mail as Labour's top-down, producer-interested elite prepare to take on the bottom-up reforms of the Coalition designed to put ordinary people at the heart of public services. As Lord Hutton - once at the centre of the New Labour cabinet that led similar reforms under Tony Blair - answers to the question what was New Labour's great achievement in public service reform?

The important achievement we had across a range of public services was to get through this very fundamental idea that introducing new providers (the private sector), zero tolerance for failure to deliver, for failure to perform, for poor outcomes, that we weren't just going to focus on who provides, we were going to represent first and foremost not the providers but the consumers of public services - that's the platform now which I hope the present government can build and can start really proper reforms of the public services.

Whether its academy's, welfare dependency, free schools, elected police commissioners or the NHS, Labour now finds itself on the side of producer interests and against the interests of the people with every major reform being proposed - despite the fact that most provide an evolutionary fit with New Labour's Blairite agenda. And with Clegg's big idea since super Thursday seemingly to oppose any reforms in the name of 'muscular liberalism', the LibDems, whose localism agenda provided the glue on which this Coalition's reforms were created, look perilously close to following suit.

As Tim Montgomery points out in an excellent piece in today's Telegraph over the past year, Clegg had appeared to reject the politics of the lowest common denominator, and backed bold reforms. Iain Duncan Smith regarded the Deputy Prime Minister as a decisive ally in his battle with the Treasury in overhauling welfare. The Lib Dems were also radical in switching the balance of educational funding from university to a child's first few years, when investment can make the biggest difference. On other issues, too – such as pensions, local government or lifting the poorest out of the income tax system – there was something exciting about the Coalition, and their contribution to it.

He concludes: Spending the next few years sniping at colleagues, navel-gazing about poll ratings and blocking vital reforms won't impress voters. Moreover, it will harm that other great hope of the Liberal Democrats: that experiencing the benefits of hung parliaments and coalition government will at last end the public's reluctance to vote for Britain's troublesome third party.