England & Wales

Parsing some recent speeches: Miliband and Denham

On a recommendation, I am just reading the John Smith memorial lecture given by David Miliband this week. I was struck in particular by this honest passage:

New Labour promised a “change not a revolution” in its 1997 manifesto. The charge against us today is that people wanted a revolution – or at least disruptive changes of course – and that we have failed to deliver it.   We have to honest that in some areas, change has been incremental and continuity has been strong:

I am thinking of transport, where despite record passenger numbers on the rails, the foundations of policy within modes, and the relationship between them, has not been fundamentally changed.

Or environmental policy, where the creation of a Department of Energy and Climate Change is welcome but should have happened in 1997. We are meeting our Kyoto targets, have pioneered a binding emissions reduction law, and are leading an international debate about a global climate change deal. But our low carbon revolution is still to come.

Or local government in England, where funding has been raised and some powers devolved, including the creation of a general power of economic and social well being which the Tories now say is their panacea, but the shift in the balance of power from Whitehall to Town Hall has not yet happened, and the convening power of local government over the whole range of local services not been achieved.

He goes on to identify areas where he does think very significant change has happened, including in health and education.    I like the expression ‘convening power’.  It goes further than I think John Denham does in his speech last week at the LGA where he said this:

“People rightly expect councils to be at the heart of decision making in their community: the one place where people can find out about and influence decisions in their area.

Obviously, I’m not proposing that local government take control of all the services in an area.

But I am interested in looking at how all the various roles of local authorities – as leader, commissioner, provider, partner and scrutineer – working together, can give you real influence and ability to drive change.

We need to consider where your existing powers could be made to work more effectively. And think about what new powers you might need to take on this more active, more expansive role”.

This qualified commitment sounds like more of the same managerliasm, rather than the radical step forward that Miliband says has not happened.