Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Blairism's last gasp and the need for a new design

Perhaps it's a sign of these 'end of an era' times that Jonathan Freedland today suggests that Blair is going partly because 'Blairism' has gone as far as it can. The end of ther seventies, he says, saw the end of the post 1945 consensus with Callaghan's government presaging the neo-liberalism which Margaret Thatcher made her own. By the mid- nineties New Labour had also accepted the primacy of markets but had moved to correct the Thatcherism's imbalance by reasserting the importance of the public sphere- a consideration which had lain fallow since the demise of Sunny Jim- and adding a degree of regulation e.g. the minimum wage and the Social Charter.

Freedland suggests the limits of Blairism have now been reached: it has become clear that pouring money into moribund structures does not work and that trying to run government departments like business, with the aid of McKinsey style target driven consultancy does not work either. Blair's obsession with internal markets and the mantras of the private sector are being rejected to a large extent in both education and health. But this is where the article disappoints. Freedland suggests the way forward is a decentralised "looser, more diffuse 'organic' network of services that fit the people who use them. Citizens won't be passive recipients, but direct particpants".

The analysis of the problem, as one might expect of such a good columnist is acute, but for the remedy, this vague stuff about decentralising power is about as useful as a David Cameron speech. Whilst this may well be the direction in which government might develop, it would have been useful to draw on experience elsewhere- Sweden for instance where dramatic devolution of power has occurred- to reinforce the case.

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