Friday, January 22, 2010


Have been a bit quiet of late, I know. Lots going on at work which I can't yet talk about publicly but will be doing after February 11th. Those who know me well will know what this is. For those that don't, it begins with an M and sounds a bit like Murder. While barely a ear in the cornfield of world-events, this M-thing will mean a lot of change for me personally. Anyway, more on that later.

Am thinking a lot about public services at the moment. I think we are going to see the biggest changes in public sector since the 1940s during the next few years. Sadly it has taken a financial crisis to get us here but, perversely, I am glad. In 15 years acquaitance I have been stunned by how far public services are from what is happening in other parts of the economy and society. A separate world. Like one of those museums where people dress like Victorians and make their own clothes. Just bizarre.

This sounds insulting I know. I feel my public sector readers already heating their keyboards...But, you know, it ain't personal. Some of the most talented people and noblest spirits in this country work in the public sector. My wife and half of my friends do. The problem isn't the people. It really isn't. It's other things. Too much political involvement in delivery. Lack of competition in key areas. Organisations that are too big and diversified to be good at anything in particular. Unions that hold too much sway. Professions that control resources rather than citizens. A universal feeling of disempowerment even at the top. A loss of confidence.

All this won't be solved in five years, not even ten. It is a 20 year project. Someone however has to get it going. I have become convinced that the Labour Party is too beholden to the professions and unions to take serious action. For a long time, the Tories were simply untrustworthy when it came to the common good - seeing this only in disaggregration. Today's Tories seem to realise that there is a `commons' which we must make a priority. A commons in which public services - however delivered- are the correct focus of political discourse and action - not an afterthought or a concern simply of the centre-left.

Does this mean I trust the Tories? No, I don't. Politicians, I know myself, are often staggeringly shallow and poorly informed. Many don't read or think a great deal. A surprising number are driven by ego and power alone. And George Osborne is, from all reports, a right shit. However, they will I believe be the next Government. And given this, and the fact that their analysis isn't all wrong, I invest more hope in them than I would be if Labour were to win again.

My own party is, of course, not mentioned here. That is mainly because we won't win nor, I believe, hold the balance of power. This pessimistic assessment comes from the two-horse nature of the forthcoming contest added to the fact that the Lib Dems do not, this time, have clear stand-out ideas such as getting out of Iraq or abolishing tuition-fees or free care for the elderly. Not that these are realistic any more I agree. But the party needs something more than a more `liberal Britain'. Sorry Nick, I like you but this isn't going to grab them.

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