Steve Reed, “One Nation Labour” MP for Croydon North, is on a mission to introduce “outcome-focused models of public services”. In a recent article* full of the very latest in management-speak he laid bare his vision for how New Labour will tackle the key issues facing Croydon residents.
His approach is based on something he and his colleagues “came up with” (his words) in Lambeth. They called it the “Co-operative Council”. It is based on the startling insight that council services should take into account the requirements of citizens and, indeed, work with them! Whatever next?
This approach is contrasted with the old model, apparently dating back to the Second World War, where public services were driven by the needs of professionals who “knew best”. This, it seems, has “disempowered” individuals and the community. They must therefore be “re-empowered”.
There is nothing even remotely new about the idea that public services should be built around the needs of those concerned, and with their involvement. Mr Reed must surely know this. This issue is not even political - it is what good public services should be about as a matter of course. It is the simple difference between good administration, and bad.
However, there is also a subtext to Mr Reed’s public service “model” that reveals more about the politics on offer from “One Nation Labour”.
Reading the article leaves you with an overwhelming feeling that Mr Reed blames the “service users” and local communities themselves for their plight. They have, he suggests, lost their self-reliance and have become “service dependent” and disempowered! Because of the old “service model”, he says, “the ability to be self-reliant has been taken away”.
This is appalling nonsense.
The so-called old model “professionals” may indeed have been patronising, especially if they had had a “we know best” attitude; but there is none more patronising than Mr Reed and his New Labour “enablers”!
But even we leave all this aside, you can’t help thinking there is more to the story. Later in the article, we discover the amazing fact that, “even if you’re faced with a 50% reduction in the funding available to you, you can still deliver far better outcomes...”.
It is plain. The strategy of Mr Reed and his co-thinkers is to suggest that government and councils have no choices. They must simply do what they can within the expenditure cuts framework set by Tory/Liberal policy that places the burden of the economic crisis onto working people - not onto the people who caused it. (On the contrary, they were bailed out...).
The plight of Croydon communities and individuals, according to One Nation Labour, has nothing to do with mass unemployment, nothing to do with zero-hours contracts, with public expenditure cuts, with poverty wages, with rising rents, with factory closures.
No. The fault lies with the people of Croydon for becoming “disempowered”!
Labour will do (and is doing) nothing fundamental to change the way society is run. The bulk of the wealth of this country will remain in the hands of a tiny minority, for whom there is no economic crisis - and “Labour” will do their bidding much as before. As for the problems of devastated communities? Sort it out yourself. And for this, we are asked to vote “Labour”?
For our part, the TUSC is very much in favour of communities taking action to solve their problems any way they can. Many TUSC supporters are already part of that. And if the local council can offer practical help, so much the better. And if they were fully funded they could deliver much more - as fully funded, say, as the privatised railways who get around £3 billion a year from the taxpayer.
Communities will take action with or without the permission of Mr Reed and his band of “empowerers”. And one thing they may do is find a candidate in Croydon to stand against him.
*The Reform of Public Services, the One Nation Agenda; in “Renewal - a Journal of Social Democracy”, Vol 22, No 1-2