UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Monday, 24 March 2014

The trouble with academics, coops and decentralisers

I dropped my car off for a service this morning around the corner from the Downing Street Men’s hostel - an ironic name where many of Manchester’s homeless alcoholics gather for a bed, warm food and sign posting to agencies. It was 8.30AM and they were standing in weak sunshine cracking open their first can of beer. It made me smile because the car radio was just reporting on the Guardian letter from a range of think tank signatories offering their views on Ed Miliband and what he needs to concentrate on to win the next election. The upshot of the debate was less centralised public services and more devolution.

The beer drinkers were in stark contrast to the pinot grigio swigging half-wits who wouldn’t know how to run public services if their lives depended on it. Offering their silly unworkable, indulgent and patronising co-production mantra Five Live reported that they wanted to ‘put power into the hands of the people’. The under-current to the debate being that public services are unaccountable monolithic institutions that don’t really help people. From my car window I couldn’t fail to notice that the early morning ‘beer garden’ wasn’t awash with homeless men wanting to co-produce anything other than home brew.

Richard Carr argues in left foot forward that Ed Miliband is missing a key part of Labours programme by failing to recognise that there needs to be ‘devolution of state institutions’ and that by doing this it would neutralise 'any charges of incompetence the Tories will doubtless continue to throw at the Labour leadership' and he goes on to argue that if local government can effectively deliver infrastructure off central balance sheets then we should give it a go.

In principle this all seems sensible stuff but the trouble is that the decentralisers in the Labour Party wear the same cloak to disguise differing political intentions. The evangelists within the co op movement believe that public services can readily be delivered by worker co ops - missing the point that public services are owned now by the many and that worker co ops would shift ownership to the few. Note the expanse of misguided labour council leaders signed up to the co op councils networks ill-informed and misjudged pretext for privatising public services?

Then there are then the ponderers like Neil Lawson of Compass - a think tank that urged supporters to vote Lib Dem at the last general election but now have the audacity to argue about under-representation of young people - wasn’t it the young who were duped into voting for Clegg on the back of his student fees promises and then shamefully ignored? And then the navel gazing debate about democratic renewal – yes we can all appreciate the maths of the Chancellor appealing to the class/gender/age of the likely Tory voters but these are not the issues that will wake up sleeping voters. It is precisely the kind of middle-class political warbling that turns voters off.

Richard Carr argues for off-balance sheet investment through local government but why are we shy of demanding full on investment through whatever vehicle – central or local? Without exception there is a macroeconomic consensus that austerity must continue – they don’t recognise that the biggest failure of Miliband thus far is his palpable failure to challenge the need for austerity – it was the Tory / Lib Dem budget of 2010 that choked off recovery. And yet these soothsayers of decentralisation appear to all be supporting this biggest single policy failure of Miliband. Because without austerity as the backdrop the decentralisers wish, hand in hand with the Tories, for a smaller state and freeing up public services to benefit the middle-classes, not working people, has no traction.

The UK can afford public services. It can afford infrastructure investment. It can afford to take a Keynesian approach to economic recovery. Voters want houses, jobs, good schools, good hospitals and good local public services. Voters are not convinced by more of the same when it comes to austerity. But this doesn’t fit with the narrative of the pinot-ariat. Because in their narrow little world the poor sods drinking beer on a street corner in Ardwick are all just co-producers waiting for Ed to change public service policy. It’s the pinot-ariat that need to wake up and smell the coffee.

Anna Rose