Coffee House

Ed Miliband and the state

10 February 2014

4:28 PM

10 February 2014

4:28 PM

Ed Miliband is delivering the Hugo Young lecture tonight, and will focus on ‘people-powered public services’. All the briefing so far sets it out to be one of those ‘intellectual underpinnings’ speeches, rather than something that sets the world on fire (although Miliband does, to his credit, have a habit of pulling impressive speeches out of the bag when we’re not expecting it, or boring us all to tears when we’ve been told to expect something major). The central premise of it is set out in his Guardian article (and for more background, do read Rafael Behr’s piece on this): it’s about people having more power over their lives. He writes:

‘Indeed, it is about much more than the individual acting as a consumer. We will put more power in the hands of patients, parents and all the users of services.’

This initially sounds like Miliband’s One Nation Labour having a late-stage epiphany about the importance of protecting the consumer against the vested interests of producers. The most notable Tory ministers who have done this are Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt. But Miliband isn’t proposing the same sort of thing, naturally. Neither is he trying to create a more localist version of localism than the current government has engineered, which is what many oppositions try to promise and then forget once they’re in government.


From conversations that I’ve had with Labour thinkers, and from Miliband’s article today, it’s clear that what he really means is a strong central state that sets standards for local authorities (not local communities, which is an important distinction and one he makes in the piece by saying the party will ‘drive power closer to people’ rather than to people themselves) to work to as they wish. This is different to devolving power and decision-making. He writes:

‘Finally, we should devolve power down not just to the user but also to the local level, because the national government’s task is to set clear national standards for what people can expect, not to diagnose and solve every local problem from Whitehall. And if we are to succeed in devolving power to users, it is much easier to do it from a local level. In every service, from health to policing to education, and by devolving budgets more widely, we are determined to drive power closer to people.’

It is unfair to say that the thinking in this speech is just tokenistic: the party is trying to work out how it can offer voters a way of feeling more powerful without them then complaining about the postcode lotteries that result from giving away too much power. And that thinking can be seen across its public services briefs. The education element of this speech, which will include a power for parents to call in specialist teams to improve failing schools and sack headteachers, suggests a recognition at the top of the party that while failing free schools such as Al-Madinah are closed swiftly, local authority-run ones can muddle on for a lot longer.

But there is no sense in anything Miliband has written or said so far that he wants to give people more choice over their public services: they will have a greater say in the way they are delivered, but not greater choice between schools, for instance. So the ‘relational state’, as the think tank architects of this speech would call it, still sounds quite paternal: it listens to what its citizens say about what they want, but still makes the big decisions for them.

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Show comments
  • renamedrisk

    People powered public services? Does this include the public service, the London Tube, which tonight for the second time this month will be brought to a halt by Brazilian Bob, Mr Robert Crow of the RMT. Is this who Mr Miliband has in mind?

    How is Mr Miliband getting on with the nation’s favourite Communist
    and Arthur Scargill fan? No doubt Mr Crow is spending these long, dark and very wet winter nights planning his next Caribbean cruise, while for the second time in two weeks the London Tube will be brought to a halt, by him.

    Mr Robert Crow seems to have a special affinity for water. He likes
    floating on it, in cruise ships, he likes sitting beside it on the
    beaches of Rio, and he persists with his union’s damaging and
    unreasonable strikes while southern England endures transport chaos due
    to the flooding.

    Yes, Mr Robert Crow, the great class warrior, former Communist Party
    member, who enjoys Caribbean cruising, living in a house provided by the state
    and crippling the London public transport network. Let’s spare a special
    thought for Brazilian Bob today, wherever he is, whichever luxury cruise ship he is looking at in his special Winter Catalogue of Sunshine Holidays for Communists. I wonder whether he will send a postcard to Mr Miliband thanking him for the Labour Party’s support of the unions and “people powered public services”?

  • realfish

    ‘Indeed, it is about much more than the individual acting as a consumer. We will put more power in the hands of patients, parents and all the users of services.’

    Shouldn’t we all have learned by now, that whatever Labour say, the exact opposite will be delivered.

    When Miliband talks about putting more power into the hands of the consumer, he does not actually mean that. He means that he will take that power and subcontract it; place in the hands of an ‘independent’ representative of his choosing, ‘to stand up for the people’ – a people’s representative like ‘Which?’ for example, who will partner a new Competition and Markets Authority. ‘Which?’, like most quangos, an organisation that is led by and infested by Labour (and Miliband) advisers. What clever and cynical stunts Miliband continues to deliver! emboldened by a media (and a national broadcaster) significantly lacking in curiosity
    Labour doesn’t know the meaning of consumerism or empowerment. Control is the default state of the Socialist.

  • HookesLaw

    This is the usual socialist clap trap, where ‘local’ decisions are taken by socialist appointed local representatives and trade unionists. Has Miliband said where the rest of us will be sent to be ‘re-educated’?
    NGO’s and QUANGOs will be appointed by Labour who will tell Labour what it wants to hear and what it is alleged we all think.

  • AnotherDave

    Giving “people more power and control over their lives” cropped up in a lot of Conservative stuff before the 2010 election too, so it’s clearly a focus group approved line.

    Pity neither of them mean it.

  • James Strong

    If you really want to give people choice then privatise education and health. Let consumers choose between competing providers, Then ,if a school is failing it will fail quicker as parents withdraw their children. That means that there is real and time-sensitive incentive for headteachers to get their schools into shape.
    The only way to succeed in a market economy is to provide a product or service that people are willing to pay for.
    State-run education and health dilute or remove the perceived link between the payers and the providers. To get that back, and thus genuinely give more power to consumers, get the state out of the way.

    • HookesLaw

      And where do I get the money to pay for this wonderful private health service? The govt is already setting up ‘free’ schools.
      You have a lot of policies which would guarantee you would lose an election.

      • James Strong

        I didn’t think I’d need to spell out the need to slash taxes, or point out that if spending is so reduced then the need for those taxes is also reduced. So there’d be more money in your pocket.
        However, you are right that I have [some] policies that would guarantee losing an election. In 2015.
        I’m hoping to get these ideas discussed more widely so that they can be understood and will not be election-losers because of emotive gut-reactions.
        I’m also in favour of the right to bear arms for sane non-convicts. That’s currently an election-loser as well, but I’ll keep putting ideas forward because I am not willing to have discussions limited by the dominant opinion-formers in politics and the media.

    • Mynydd

      Your children are in the local village school, where can parents withdraw their children to, where is the competing provider, no where to be seen. How many health care companies have built a hospital along side an existing NHS hospital so the consumers can choose between competing providers.

      • Andy

        Fascists like you have done everything you can to destroy private health care and private education. In your glorious National Socialist tyranny no one should be allowed to have choice, be able to spend their money how they wish. You’re a pillock of tyranny.

        Personally I would create education vouchers, and privatise all state schools. I would turn all hospitals into trusts – many hospitals were trusts before that scumbag Bevan stole them all – and create individual health accounts. Set the people free from tyrants like you and destroy the power of the Fascist Labour Party.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Patient power eh? This from the party whose members hounded and persecuted the relative who dared to speak up for Burnham’s patients at Mid-Staffs, the victims of criminal neglect.

  • Andy

    Usual Fascist Labour Party bollocks. Unless you give the people CHOICE, and allow them to exercise that choice, which means alternative providers (that means competition and maybe private profit) then this is all complete and utter twaddle. The idiot Miliband will never allow this because that would mean it and its Union paymasters would lose control, and they will never allow that in their glorious National Socialist regime.

  • George_Arseborne

    Ah Isabel!!! This article just show your soft spot for Milliband.

  • Jupiter

    Milipede talking out of his rear end again.

  • rtj1211

    It’s got one thing in mind and one thing alone: what message will win Ed Miliband power??