by Theo Blackwell
It takes the polemicist Simon Jenkins to hit the nail on the head: our most talented leaders are outside of Westminster in local government – and ‘SW1 Labour’s’ love of centralism and conformity continues to freeze them out. Labour has outstanding leaders. It’s a shame that they are all in the regions | Simon Jenkins. Not using too much hyperbole, he writes of the pre-election devo-Manc discussions:
“A significant moment in the downfall of Ed Miliband came in spring of last year after George Osborne’s “northern powerhouse” speech. Manchester’s boss, Richard Leese, was in the middle of negotiating with Osborne on his city’s devolution plan. It involved a major restructuring of public administration, possibly across all of local government. Miliband’s office wanted Leese to rubbish Osborne’s speech. The reply was reputedly unquotable in a family newspaper. Who did these snivelling Westminster teenagers think they were addressing?”
Without a doubt this was a political moment which revealed the lack of depth and hubris of team Ed – none of whom had local government experience and often gave the impression to council leaders that their interventions were just rude interruptions to their far more important ‘West Wing’ world of policy announcements. Local government was seen a something to be managed rather than an opportunity to be harnessed as part of our story around credibility, innovation and growth.
Be in no doubt, in Labour local government circles this sorry episode continues to be regarded as a most monstrous tactical error by the previous leadership, as territory ceded to the Conservatives will be hard to regain. (Indeed, Andy Burnham has had to work hard with local government figures to distance himself from the ‘Swiss Cheese NHS’ description of locally combined budgets he used in the run up to the election).
But today our governing experience is almost exclusively in local government and Wales, and not in the Parliamentary Labour party. This will be same for the next 5 years.