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Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Vote for Jeremy Corbyn?

If I was still a member of the Labour Party, I would vote for Jeremy Corbyn to lead it.

Unfortunately, my membership lapsed nearly fifty years ago so I can't. I joined the Party, all youthful idealism, when I was 16 and canvassed in my Erith and Belvedere constituency in the 1964 elections which returned Harold Wilson as Prime Minister and James Wellbeloved as my local MP. Then I went to University, moved left and lapsed (though I still managed to be Chairman of the University Labour Club in 1967 - it wasn't a job requirement that you belonged to the national party).

I would have one big doubt about backing Corbyn.

If he led the Labour Party to a General Election victory, he could be in the same position as Hollande's government in France, reliant on the very conditional support of public sector workers and their unions. And that could function overall - whatever the rhetoric - as an exclusive rather than an inclusive force. In France, the lack of fraternity is very obvious in the huge divide between those who are In to the benefits of the system, notably public sector workers who have bludgeoned governments for decades, and those who are Out - and the Outs include most young people and most of the non-white inhabitants of France's many ghettos, the banlieues.

Corbyn (like Owen Jones) is too romantic about the public sector. Like the private sector, it is not a single force. It comprises the good, the bad and the ugly.

When I go to my GPs surgery for a blood test, it is obvious that the nurse who takes my blood is working a long day, seeing many patients and trying hard to treat all of them as human beings. That is public sector front line work at its best.

But then there are Town Hall bureaucrats too busy to leave their Monday to Friday offices what with the competing demands of small intrigues and their own tiresome versions of political correctness. As a result, out on the streets things are neglected.

(A small example: Green and very politically correct Brighton and Hove has renewed pedestrian lights as many traffic junctions in recent years. Many are out of phase or incomprehensibly phased. As a result, the foreign tourists and language school students - a lot of people in Brighton - stand baffled on the kerb while locals simply ignore the lights. It's dangerous but nothing is done about it. No one has ever left the Town Hall to check the functioning of the systems. I refer you to the Clock Tower lights and the Tesco junction between Western Road and Palmeira Square).

There are bigger examples of bad public sector practice, some of it very highly remunerated. Think, for example,  of what happened at the Care Quality Commission under Cynthia Bower and Gill Finney.

Then there is the ugly: the corrupt organisations like the Metropolitan Police, which is officially corrupt - the government's own reports tell us.

The wider electorate wants public services to be more like Tesco, with staff working ROTAS so that they can remain open seven days a week. It is simply not acceptable that a Social Work team - including Child Protection specialists - works Monday to Friday with just one "Duty Social Worker" to cover weekends and public holidays, days on which vulnerable children are even more at risk. But could a Corbyn government respond to that public sentiment? Or would it collude in making public sector entitlements (overtime, holidays, special payments for this and that) even more baroque and unfair?

It does, however, occur to me that the alternatives to Corbyn - Burnham. Cooper, Kendall - could well be adduced as living examples of what the worst kind of Town Hall bureaucrat talks like.

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