Well, I have to admit I didn’t see this one coming:
Labour is planning to re-brand one of its local authorities as Britain’s first “John Lewis council”, offering council tax rebates to residents in exchange for helping to run services, in a direct challenge to the Conservatives’ pioneering “easyCouncil”.
In a move which could propel town hall politics into the national general election campaign, ministers are to champion the south London borough of Lambeth as their new vision of how local government can work.
It will put Lambeth head-to-head with the north London borough of Barnet, where the Tories are charging customers for services along the lines of the business model of budget airlines such as easyJet.
But being “ripe for manipulation by indignant local councillors” (arf) then you wouldn’t expect me to be first with all the @lambeth_council cabinet news (quick check: timestamp of 21:45. I certainly wasn’t first to the story, but I can’t be arsed to wait around another five days before the SLP runs with it online.)
And so first thoughts on Labour led @lambeth_council being branded as a ‘John Lewis council’ ahead of the local elections. Don’t be fooled by the name; I would have thought a Primark council would have been more appropriate, given the current shoddy state of leisure and housing in the Rotten Borough.
But the story isn’t about branding. It’s the election policy that the national Nu Labour party has come up with to
try and restle back the agenda offer a fresh approach to local politics. @lambeth_council seems to be the guinea pig in all of this.
Fine work in coming up with a strategy to try and revitalise an area that has been left to run down in recent years. What of the policy itself though? Will it really make a difference on the ground and empower the electorate to take more control of their services?
I actually rather like the idea of
big medium local government making decisions on my behalf. That’s what I vote them in for – to take care of the local community whilst I can take care of the finer things in life, such as attending to the wine cellar.
Democracy takes place in the form of the ballot box, not a knee jerk voter friendly policy, just weeks away from the election. The idea of my little patch of South London becoming a national political football in the wider scheme of events sits rather uneasy with me.
It is tempting to analyse the John Lewis model and view it as an exercise in taking local politics to the street. The alternative opinion is of course that it is an exercise in taking local politics away from politicians, and allowing them to wash their hands of all responsibility when services fail to deliver.
It is interesting to note that our friends @lambeth_council are keen to cite the Greenwich Leisure Limited example as the way forward in the Rotten Borough, should Labour retain control of the council.
This is hardly a success story of the current administration, leaving the legacy of two closed leisure centres, and one that is only open for public swimming for limited hours during the day.
Talking to the lovely GLL staff on the ground, and it seems that if the John Lewis analysis is to be followed through, then they certainly feel that they are at the wrong end of a never knowingly undersold policy.
Everything has a price with this type of political management, and the sharp end is met from the preferred service providers, and of course the customers.
I’ve kept my receipt after forking out for a Lambeth GLL leisure card. With nowhere for me to swim during the daytime in the Rotten Borough, I certainly feel as though I have been undersold.
But whom do I turn to? The democratically elected political party that has given a stakeholder share in providing the service to a third party? The third party that has its hands tied by @lambeth_council? The Tories?
Careful for what you wish for, once again.
The dressing up of this new approach to local politics will be to talk of an ideological battle taking place Nu Labour in Lambeth, and the Tory Easy Jet model up in Barnet. It’s all a headline writers dream, something that the image conscious Labour cabinet in Lambeth are all too aware of it.
But looking more closely as the proposal, this is anything but a return to the days of the red flag flying from the town hall in the Rotten Borough. John Lewis may have the upper hand over Easy Jet in a game of top trumps (still following all of this twaddle?) but business is business.
And right now, the business of Labour led Lambeth Council is that of doing deals with private capital in a bid to limit responsibility when things go wrong. We’ve witnessed this on a massive scale in Streatham with Tesco now in control of leisure. Is this really the way ahead for Lambeth health, education and housing provision for the following four years?
Local government is elected to govern. If they aren’t up to the job, then they should make way for a political party that can take control of policy and provision in the area.
Hang onto yer receipts, people.