It will take more than this to Move Labour Forward

Let’s not be churlish.  It is a very good thing that Edinburgh Labour has launched a consultation document – Moving Labour Forward – on its website, seeking views on some policy ideas it has for running the City of Edinburgh Council.

The premise is a sound one and shows that the party is getting its act together ahead of the local government elections next May.

The central concept of a co-operative council and exploring how key functions and responsibilities can be mutualised to better effect is interesting.  And welcome too.  We need ideas on how to take profit out of public service and maximise bang for buck, especially when there are fewer bucks to go around.

What did I like?  The plan to give local communities a greater say and benefit from local parks and green spaces.  And to give clubs involvement in the running of sport pitches and pavilions.  I also liked the idea of promoting an Edinburgh green energy co-operative.

And at last, someone is prepared to explore the idea of a tourist tax and to use its proceeds to subsidise Edinburgh’s festivals – the burd hopes, to free up current taxpayer grants for other purposes.  And hallelujah for the idea of a city-wide childcare co-operative, though I doubt private nurseries and providers currently making a killing from exorbitant fees would agree.

Otherwise, it’s all a little safe and stale.  And Labour’s twin bogeys of private sector partnership and a hardline approach to community safety are still very much in evidence.   Worse, Labour is still thirled to and in thrall of the idea of running the cooncil as Edinburgh plc.  A trap, incidentally, that the SNP fell into, when it had the opportunity to change the culture at Edinburgh City Council to become more responsive to and in tune with local residents’ needs.

Labour’s number one priority is wearily familiar – it’s about making the city more prosperous!  And to do this, it proposes the same old, with a lot of effort and focus on tried, tired, tested and failed methods of pump priming. Whatever happened to the idea of a better way?

Getting tough on crime, at least on paper, is still attractive:  “we’ll seek to set up a special antisocial behaviour unit to target hardcore offenders across the city”.  Ignoring the fact that responsibility for policing and community safety is likely to move outwith local government control and that actually, many residents would like to see serious and violent crime targeted with zeal.  Or is Labour proposing to set up a civil alternative to policing?  No thanks.

There’s also some tough talk on local accountability.  A Labour administration will spend its time “doing what the city needs, not chasing Government targets” and will make “officials accountable to the city’s needs, not to rules made to suit them or the Government”.  Which might make for a rallying cry on election leaflets but bears little relationship to reality.  Councils have far fewer targets to meet under the SNP Scottish Government than they had when Labour and the Lib Dems were in charge.  Ring-fenced funding is almost a thing of the past:  yet, there were over 90 ring-fenced funds imposed by the old Scottish Executive.

Where councils are made to do things, often the underlying rationale is to ensure that society’s most marginalised are protected and provided for.  There is a purpose to statutory duties and responsibilities that often relate to the needs of pensioners, disabled people, homeless families and vulnerable children.

Bizarrely, Edinburgh Labour’s consultation document is entirely silent on social work services and on addressing poverty and deprivation.  Social justice appears to be an outmodish concept in current Labour circles.  The idea that Edinburgh City Council can thumb its nose at legislative requirements might be appealing, but is in fact dangerously simplistic and potentially disastrous.

My cynical side is apt to think that Labour is banking on reaching out to Edinburgh’s burgeoning middle class with its airy-fairy notions of petitions committees, Transport Forums and Budget Committees.  Enabling the articulate noise-makers to have their already loud voices listened to will do little to bridge the gap that exists between the haves and the have-nots in the city.  It might prove to be vote-winning but is not what local government is for.

Ultimately, Moving Labour Forward has some good ideas, but as a foundation document for an election manifesto, it is currently more than a little half-baked.  If it is to win its way back to power in Edinburgh, and indeed, in other councils around the country, Labour needs more, much more that is roots-based and innovative but also realistic and feasible.


6 thoughts on “It will take more than this to Move Labour Forward

  1. Kate

    Many thanks for posting about the consultation document we launched last week … whilst I may not agree with all your points above, I think you’ve written a reasonable analysis and I would accept that the final document certainly needs to say much more on Social Work/Care issues in particular.

    The current document really is a ‘work-in-progress’ and we’re serious about trying to attract as much feedback on the initial draft as possible. All the details on how to respond can be found at:

    And I’ll certainly reflect on the issues you’ve raised here, and when we do re-draft the current version, I’d really welcome any further analysis.

    I do hope I don’t regret saying that 😉


  2. How about “half missing”? There’s not much Education to go with the Social Work.

    Changing tack somewhat – I would be fascinated to see a group photo of Glasgow’s Labour Councillors next to the Edinburgh ones. In fact, why not throw it open to a competition for all Groups of Councillors?

    Would there be distinctive physical characteristics by Party or Council? Preponderance of beards, disturbing smiles or poses, the presence of corduroy etc all could be analysed. I’m sure it would be enlightening.

  3. I think this is a pretty fair set of comments. While I wouldn’t necessarily use the phrase “half-baked”, the Moving Edinburgh Forward document certainly is a work in progress, and is fully flagged as such. In fact, on the Edinburgh Labour website ( folk can criticise, comment and feed back their opinions on every element of it, via an online survey.

    At its launch, the labour group leader (to the apparent slight consternation of some of his colleagues…) stated that if the Edinburgh Labour manifesto – due to be published around March next year – didn’t have significant differences from this initial set of ideas, then they would have failed.

    I do think that the central idea of a co-operative council is full of potential, and I do think that a lot of the other ideas have real merit, but there’s definitely more to add, and perhaps a few things to subtract, before I’d be proclaiming it a work of genius. 😉

    • You’re right – half-baked was lazy. Brain too tired to think of a better epithet! Will amend when i come up with one. There are some good ideas here and the idea of a co-operative council is quite exciting but it’s not followed through with some of the policy threads. More thought, more work and more development and it will be a half decent manifesto! Some ideas on poverty would be good!!

  4. “Traditionally, co-ops have tended to be associated with the Labour party, not least because the historic links between the two movements have been long and close. It was a co-op that first introduced the eight-hour day in a UK factory; the Co-operative Wholesale Society that introduced the minimum wage in 1901; and the Women’s Co-operative Guild, that began to discuss the National Health Service in 1929, almost 20 years before it was eventually founded.

    Yet Labour did nothing to prevent the disastrous demutualisation of building societies that was under way when it came to power in 1997, and little to promote co-operatives as an alternative business model during its three terms. Co-ops had the wrong sort of image for New Labour; they were seen as sluggish and not nearly as dynamic as companies driven by shareholder value. Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were happier with the classic, top-down model than with grassroots participation.” – Guardian, Aug 2010.

    • Well said, if depressing. There is nothing sluggish or old fashioned about co-ops – they have always been ahead of their time!

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