Why Labour should support free schools and GP commissioning

John Rentoul

08 james purnell 997307c 300x187 Why Labour should support free schools and GP commissioningJames Purnell confirms the cost to Labour of his departure from the Commons last year in an article in next month’s Prospect (subscription). He says he has been reading Hansard, the parliamentary record, to try to find out what Conservative plans to reform schools and the NHS actually are (as opposed to what columnists say they are):

When I first worked for Tony Blair as a researcher in the early 1990s, he used to read Hansard the whole time. Honestly. In the mornings, he’d come in to the office, kick back and open the Official Record. He was keen writer of congratulatory notes, an additional epistolary explanation for why he was the Parliamentary Labour Party’s favourite in 1994.

He would say that if you command the House, you’d never make it. That’s partly about technique, but mostly about argument. Anyone can come up with a soundbite, and good one can cover up quite a lot. But if your policy is weak, your argument will be too. And that will be crucially exposed in the Commons.

What Purnell found out from his improving reading was that the Tory proposals are vulnerable, but only if they are attacked from a stance of supporting them in principle. It is what Cameron did when he became Tory leader:

[He] set about detaching Tony Blair from Labour (helped by the fact that many Labour MPs were already heartily on the job) …

Labour should turn the Tory trick back on its originators by supporting free schools and GP commissioning.

That would allow Labour to be heard, and then to criticise the Tory plans where they will fail to produce better, fairer outcomes. This is the wise strategy, although I am not sure that Purnell’s specific criticisms are quite right. He says Labour should say: “We support free schools, but we wouldn’t be cutting funding.” Oh yes “we” would. Labour ought to say: “We support free schools, but schools reform should go further and faster – children in bad schools can’t wait.”

And he says Labour should say: “We support GP commissioning, but we think bringing competition policy wholesale into the NHS is tonto.” I don’t think that is what is wrong with it (and I thought tonto was the Lone Ranger’s sidekick). It is the way in which competition is being brought in that is wrong – in particular, Lansley won’t get the people’s support if he appears to allow competition on price rather than quality.

Right. Back to those transcripts of evidence to select committees.


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  • petersimplex

    I think Tony Blair had actually detached himself from Labour before he even joined the party. One of life’s great unsolved mysteries.

  • AlanGiles

    I always remember that when Euan Blair (Tone’s eldest) was given the job of an intern in Clinton’s administration, he terminated his contract early because – he said – Clinton’s people were “too left wing for me”.

    I think Tony & son were really Tories passing themselves off as Labour supporters – many people realised this, hence the membership plummeted during his reign. Of course Rentoul is a Tory too (and I think he likes Purnells pink tie) so he and Purnell are really two cheeks of the same ass – and of course Purnell is as greedy and devious as Blair was, so it is understandable he is another of Rentoul’s little plastic heros.

  • AlanGiles

    I agree with most of what you say. I think though, there is slightly more hope with Ed Miliband leading the party than there would have been with his brother Banana Boy, who was merely a slightly younger version of Tony Blair, self important and warmongering. I’m not saying I’m over confident, but at the very least that rat Purnell is no longer able to influence Labour, as he would have been if he had become David Miliband’s chief of staff.

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