Optimism and relationships are in Labour’s DNA

by Jonathan Todd

The British economy is growing because of the hard work and ingenuity of businesses and workers. Crime remains in a long-term decline. Some public services are improving because of the efforts of public servants like those interviewed by Liz Kendall and Steve Reed in a new Progress publication.

The economy improves in spite of George Osborne, while Theresa May benefits from a trend toward falling crime that predates her time in office. Osborne’s attempted fiscal consolidation has lacked strategic direction: cutting deepest where resistance was thought weakest (local government, welfare), instead of recasting the relationship between public, private and third sectors to secure maximum combined impact. Pockets of public service innovation are, nonetheless, discernible, even if this strategic direction is lacking.

Kendall and Reed delve into these pockets: Frontline, a programme designed to attract some of the country’s highest achieving graduates into social work; Newcastle city council’s response to the government’s ‘troubled families’ programme; Oldham council, experiencing a threefold rise in residents’ satisfaction under Jim McMahon’s leadership; Participle, an organisation that designs and helps to launch projects to demonstrate what the next generation of public services should look like; and the use of personal budgets to empower people to manage their health and wellbeing in ways that best suit their particularities.

“It might be tough for those of us who love politics to face,” as Hopi Sen noted, writing for Progress about a Policy Network pamphlet published at the end of last year, “but politics is primarily a secondary function in society. Real change is being created and developed elsewhere, and politics seeks to manage, regulate, anticipate and ameliorate those changes in the interests of the people”.

Real change in the economy is about risk-taking entrepreneurs and determined workers, not Osborne. Real improvement in crime figures is about complex and subtle social advances, not May. Real public service improvement is about the coalface pioneers unearthed by Kendall and Reed, not Francis Maude, who this weekend announced he is standing down as an MP and received garlands for the public service improvement he has supposedly secured ensconced in the Cabinet Office.

James Forsyth reported in the Mail on Sunday on Maude and also on one shadow cabinet member worrying that Labour offers voters only a ‘mantra of misery’. Labour should not, however, be miserable. We should be confident in the capacity of businesses and workers to grow the economy, social change to continue crime’s downward trajectory, and public servants to work with service users, families and communities to better outcomes.

It is not that nothing good can happen under a Tory government. Of course, good things can and do happen under Tory government. But Tory government is incidental to these things, as it is in the nature of a free society that government does not determine everything.

Labour’s case isn’t best made by the curmudgeonly and disingenuous claim that these good things cannot really be happening due to the persistence of Tory government. Instead, Labour’s case should be founded on the optimism that more of these things would be enabled through a government creating the kind of people-powered public services that Ed Miliband looked toward in his Hugo Young lecture, a lecture that Kendall and Reed recall in their introduction to the pamphlet.

The importance of relationships is a recurring theme in the interviews that follow. Frontline works to bring about change within families, which are the nexus of our most crucial relationships. Such relationships are also a priority for the families programme in Newcastle, which deploys a whole family approach with named key workers and sustained support. In Oldham renewing relationships has also been vital to better social care, as service users have received longer appointments at times of their choosing, allowing them to develop deeper relations with social care staff at times that do not intrude on their commitments to others. Personal budgets, meanwhile, according to Sarahlee Richards, commissioning lead for NHS Nene and Corby clinical commissioning group, are “about people being part of their community”, another tapestry woven from the interplay of relationships. And the work of Participle, claims Hilary Cottam, its founder and chief executive, “starts [by] having Sunday lunch and playing bingo”, integrating themselves into these tapestries.

This speech, said Jon Cruddas last week, is a plea to put fraternity back into our politics. Given the stress on relationships, Kendall and Reed might also have conceived their pamphlet as such a plea. Cruddas is more closely associated with the Blue Labour movement than any other senior elected Labour politician and Progress continues to be seen as keepers of the New Labour flame. In the shared concern of Cruddas, Kendall and Reed on relationships, we perhaps glimpse the contours of the New-Blue movement – a fusion of the New and Blue Labour variants – that Rafael Behr last week wrote was forming. More than three years after I argued on Uncut that such a cocktail would work.

I’m not bitter that it has taken so long for the world to catch up. I’m optimistic about all the possibility, unlocked through strengthened relationships, that Kendall and Reed showcase. And which ought to form leitmotifs and inspirations to a party with optimism in a better tomorrow, grounded in the potential of today, in its DNA.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut 

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13 Responses to “Optimism and relationships are in Labour’s DNA”

  1. Dave Roberts. says:

    Jonathon. I’m sure you mean well but you should have stopped after the first two sentences and certainly after ” The economy improves in spite of George Osbourne”. The rest is wishful thinking sociobabble. I can take it apart if you like but I also have a day job so do let me know.

  2. james says:

    This is all fine and dandy until voters here the killer questions: `Would I hand back the keys to the economy to Labour?` and `Do I believe that Labour would be able to take the tough decisions to bring down the deficit so as to have the money to achieve the things it wants?`

    The problem for Labour is that this is the right message at the wrong time. Or perhaps it’s a message that might be taken up by a new coalition ONCE there is a yearly surplus.

  3. Bob says:

    Is that like Rotherham council for instance.

  4. Ex labour says:

    @ Dave Roberts

    Agree 100%.

    Using “DNA” in the title is so lazy and tired. I’ll send it up to Private Eye for their DNA feature.

  5. Delta says:

    For the 1400 (at least) victims of Labour HQ oppression that gave birth to the limits of Human Rights and the utter failure of Judicial Review and the Polics and authorities to protect so many children. The martyr’s of Rotherham…I salute you.

    The Parties flag is deepest grey
    It shrouded oft our affluent fed
    And ere our victims grew stiff and cold
    Our heads sold out for other peoples’ Gold.
    Then raise the boring standard high
    Beneath it’s folds we’ll steal and lie
    Though heroes flinch and the vulnerable fear
    We’ll keep others wealth rolling-in here
    It waved above our infant brains
    when all ahead seemed clean and sane
    It witnessed many a fail and farce
    We must not think; let Rotherham pass
    It well recalls all colours past
    From black, blue, purple on the mast,
    The banner dull, the symbol vague
    Of dishonest bull and PR plague
    It suits today Labours rich debased
    Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place
    To cringe beneath the hypocrites frown
    And haul the poorest aspirations down

    With truth uncovered swear we all
    We bear the crime with Rotherham’s call
    Come endless shame and abuses grim
    This shall be our victorious hymn

  6. BenM says:


    “`Do I believe that Labour would be able to take the tough decisions to bring down the deficit so as to have the money to achieve the things it wants?`”

    WHat passes for ‘tough’ decision making within Tory circles isn’t really.

    And of course tough does not equal right.

    So Osborne attacking the poorest by attempting to cut welfare spending (it has climbed relentlessly under his stewardship) wasn’t a ‘tough’ choice – his ideological preferences and the shrieking from his press supporters made it a simple choice.

    In Osborne’s shoes “tough” would have translated as ignoring those shrill, vindictive calls to harrass the poor and vulnerable and NOT cut government spending.

    He’d have been fiercly denounced by his own supporters, but the effects for the economy would have been much better than the 5% of output that the NIESR estimates the UK has lost thanks to boneheaded austerity.

  7. Dave Roberts. says:

    The interventions of Pickles in three councils could reflect badly on Labour in less than 100 days. Doncaster, Tower Hamlets and Rotherham are all in their own ways indictments of Labour.

    Donnygate is of course well know now and has been for years to the readers of Private Eye as the quintessential corrupt Labour fiefdom that was allowed to flourish all the time that it returned Labour MPs and a Labour council.

    Rotherham is just one of a number of towns where the grooming and serial raping of young white girls went on with the full knowledge and tactic approval of the local Labour hierarchy.

    More than a decade ago a Labour, MP Ann Cryer, warned of the phenomenon and was either ignored or accused by the Livingstone financed front Unite Against Fascism of pandering to racism. Terrified of being called racist, or even worse Islamophobic, Labour ignored what it knew was happening.

    The shambles in Tower Hamlets is to a great extent of Labour’s own making. It allowed groups of Bangladeshi businessmen and wheelers and dealers in block votes to trade political clout for grants, council flats and other goodies.

    When this section became allied with the fundamentalist Islamic Forum Europe operating out of the East London Mosque there was a political force that could ignore Labour and British society and create a South Asian Islamic kleptocracy. Lutfur Rahman’s only mistake was going too far. Had he kept it all within bounds he could have operated for years.

    Labour are vulnerable on a whole range of fronts when it comes to issues like these as they have ignored what was going on and blamed any mention of it on racism, institutionalised or not and Islamophobia. None of the latter are any longer in fashion and Labour’s track record here will come back to bite them.

  8. Tafia says:

    Delta, the next scandal – Halifax, started to erupt last night. Look at the names of the 25 that have been charged.


  9. Bob says:

    Delta: Just look at the news from the North East,


    Another Labour controlled area, remember we have not heard the last from Rochdale yet.

    I did ask Radio Merseyside if they were going to interview the Labour Mayor Joe Anderson, he of outrageous spending on the Cunard Building in Liverpool, if he was going to interviewed about the Exec he employed, one Mr Ged Fitzgerald. Previously the Chief Executive of Rotherham between 1997 and 2010, to see if he was a fit and proper person to hold the post.

    What are the relationship between politicians and local bigwigs in some towns and more importantly have the Labour councillors been expelled after the results of the Jay and Casey reports.

    Tristram Hunt if he made the comments he did in last nights QT would have been lynched if he had said it of Jewish or Islamic schools.

  10. Dave Roberts. says:

    A similar discussion is going on over on Trial by Jeory as the Electoral Court into Tower Hamlets malpractices has started in The High Court in London.

  11. Dave Roberts. says:

    And Ted Jeory deletes comments.

  12. james says:

    @ben – I’m not a tory but if you want to be so blind as to the assertions put by ordinary members of the public more fool you.

    Most electors in this country aren’t pre-occupied with those on benefit mostly because they aren’t on benefits themselves (excluding child benefit) – they care very much for those that can’t fend for themselves though yet realise that the system needed reform and needed it badly.

    In its heart of hearts Labour knows this to be true as well – they understand that it might not be the right way of doing it yet they also understand that they would have had to have done similar things if they had been reelected.

    Labour supporters who seem to live in this delusional bubble need to get out more.

  13. paul barker says:

    Another Alternative Labour manifesto, any more to come ?

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