There’s plenty of buzz this morning about George Osborne’s new policy proposal: allowing public sector workers to run schools, job-centres, hospitals and other services as cooperatives. James Crabtree, Tim Montgomerie and Spectator.co.uk’s very own Martin Bright have exhaustive posts on why this might work in practice. It is, as they all suggest, pretty radical stuff.
But it’s also clever politics. It is something which appeals directly to people on the left (like Martin), as well as public sector workers. When so much of the Tories central "post-bureaucratic" agenda is about decentralising power from the government to individuals or to private enterprise, this says that the public sector won’t be left out of that process; that state control can be diluted even inside the state. The result? Well, the public sector, and the left generally, may be more on-side for some of the Tories’ other reforms. Everyone, as they say, is a winner.
This isn’t to say that the Tories are surrendering to the left, or putting triangulation above all else. No, there are reasons to think this is a good policy – and one which will hand even more power to you and me. The trick is accountability, you see. If public sector workers are running their own institutions, then we know who’s accountable when things go wrong. It isn’t government targets. It isn’t a minister in Whitehall. It’s the cooperative and its members. And that could be all the pressure necessary to get them to up their game.