Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Day with the Lefties

Spoke today at the conference of London Voluntary Sector Resource Centre, the VCS umbrella for the capital. Sharing a platform was Andy Benson of the new National Coalition of Independent Organisations.

Andy is an incredibly eloquent exponent of a view of the sector which, in many ways is right. But rather in the way that Marx was right. The analysis is strong and based on good principle. The problem is that, like Marx, he offered few answers beyond getting angry, solidarity, all that SWP/Respect stuff.

What I liked about Andy was that he is coming from some of the same places as me. He's angry about a lot of stuff. He believes in freedom of expression and the primacy of civil society. He is a sceptic about the state and brilliantly funny about the rot mouthed by Government about empowerment, capacity-building and so on. He is also very perceptive about the way commissioning can turn the sector into a dumb servant of state ends, no longer an independent, free voice.

But that's as far as it went. He's also, quite oddly, a bit of a statist. Asked about the need to break down public sector monopolies, he talked about the loss of central control this would entail. What I couldn't quite square is how this champion of community wanted to protect failing state monopolies whose existence impoverishes the communities which he champions.

While there were supportive pockets, the audience overall was probably the most left-wing I have encountered. It was a bit like speaking at a fringe meeting at Labour Party conference, circa 1982. I was heckled when I dared to slag off our beloved NHS (yes, the one that is particularly adept at killing learning-disabled people, normally through neglect)or when I spoke about the potential for community organisations to deliver public services.

This bunch of conservatives (for that is what they actually are, for all their self-styled leftyism) actually prefer things the way the are now. They would rather we all choke up even more in tax to pay for the falling productivity and Stalinesque management of these failing bureaucracies than turn them over to a diversity of providers and empowered citizens using personal budgets.

If the choice is a bigger state these guys would go for that every time over a smaller one and more empowered communities. Or at least that's where leftiness inevitably takes you. Personally, that's not what I want. I think we all deserve better than that. The people I work with certainly do and, until someone proves to me otherwise, I will do everything in my power to place choice and control back into their hands and away from the state.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for noting us in your blog, even if our name is wrong. Listening to the conversations after the presentations and debate and I know that many in the audience shared your views. LVSC has also run events on how to 'play' the market and engage with commissioning and procurement and public service delivery. As we aim to try and meet the needs across London I felt it was only fair to also allow space for the, as Craig defines it, 1982 old leftyism and hear from both sides. This blog acknowledges the common ground between Craig and Andy and I suggest that it is the common ground for many of us. Let's build a diverse community on this ground and not an estate of all buildings looking the same from the outside but different, private activities on the inside.
It was a pleasure to have you speak at our conference.

Elizabeth Balgobin
Chief Executive
London Voluntary Service Council

Craig Dearden-Phillips said...

Thanks Elizabeth and sorry for the name slip. Yes, there was more balance to the audience than I reported. Forgive my licence there.
Enjoyed the morning, thanks again for asking me along.