Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How to achieve local power

At Morecambe college in 1984 one of my teachers, Graham Cayley, came in to class one day in an agitated state. He'd been at a union meeting the night before and the far left activists had obviously got his back up. "If you want power," he said, "all you have to do is invest time."

I thought of this today as the Conservatives launched their Big Society idea. Empowering communities with volunteers and activists. It's a nice idea. Marple is full of good people who give up their time for their church, schools, festivals, sports clubs, civic societies and even a country music club.

It's also a nice idea because the voluntary sector takes cost out of the public sector budget. And savings are what is needed. It's also a major difference in philosophy from Labour, as Paul Mason explains very well here.

Where it falls over takes me back to 1984. The same people who want to run things and have the time and inclination to run things can often be the very people who shouldn't be allowed within a million miles of a public service. Education, for starters, is far too important to be given over to slogans like "parent power". Sorry, but I don't want busy and pushy parents deciding what my kids should learn. That's what a curriculum is for. That's what trained professional teachers are good at.

And for the record, Graham Cayley taught me to love Dickens, Orwell and Shakespeare, as well as how to achieve power. If only I could be arsed.


Michael Walters said...

I find politicians' search for the 'big idea' increasingly tiresome. We had decades of policy wonks trying to come up with some quasi-philosophical magic bullet that will fix society's ills, rather than acknowledging that what most of us want are just half-decent, well-managed public services. Part of the difficulty is that most current politicians don't understand much beyond politics, and have little understanding of the realities of management or service delivery. I spend most of my non-writing life advising on public sector management - for the most part, what's needed is not some smart political model, just the sustained application of good practice. But that doesn't make good copy in the manifesto.

Michael Taylor said...

I think a big idea can and should cover how a party governs, but you are right, it rarely does.