After nabbing Graeme Cooke fresh from David Miliband’s campaign and Will Straw from Left Foot Forward, we hear that Richard Darlington has jumped ship from Demos and joined ippr as its new head of news. Darlington was a special adviser to Ruth Kelly and previously worked for the TUC. Matt Cavanagh, a former adviser in the Downing Street policy unit, has also recently been recruited alongside Marc Stears, an Oxford political thinker and a close friend of Ed Miliband and Maurice Glasman, the brains behind blue Labour.
ippr made its name in opposition, chiefly through its Social Justice Commission, which formed the basis of much of New Labour’s policy development. It’s hoped that the tank will once again provide many of the new ideas the party needs to reconnect itself with the public. Ideas at the moment seem to need a colour attached to them. Blue Labour and Progress‘ own Purple Book suggest that you can’t be hip in tanktown without devising your own ideological hue. Answers on the back of an envelope for who would make up beige Labour …
There’s also change at the top of Britain’s oldest progressive thinktank, the Fabian Society. As reported last month, Sunder Katwala is moving on after seven and a half years to head up a new organisation with the working name of the Social Justice Communications Agency. The Fabians’ work on public attitudes has convinced the departing general secretary that there is a way of building popular support for migrants and immigration. During Katwala’s time in Dartmouth Street, the Society clocked up an impressive number of influential reports and commissions. The Fabian Commission on Life Chances and Inequality helped to convince the Labour government of the need to invest in the early years. In particular, the Society’s work on the pre-birth agenda led to the introduction of the Health in Pregnancy Grant, now sadly abolished by the coalition.
In other news, Anna Turley, a former special adviser to Hilary Armstrong, has left the New Local Government Network to found her own consultancy and a new space on the blogosphere for progressive debate about localism. ProgLoc.org will bring together Labour’s thinkers to help steer a new vision for the party in town halls across the country. With an extra 800 councillors, Labour needs to use its new base as a springboard for victory in 2015, just as the Tories did in opposition. Turley’s blog could provide space to unite those voices who understand the difficulties of reforming local government in an era of bludgeoning cuts, but nonetheless get that Labour must innovate if it is to survive.
Finally, Cameron’s favourite thinktank, Policy Exchange, appears to have come to the same conclusion on NHS reform as the rest of the country. Its report, Implementing GP Commissioning, suggests that the pace of reform needs to ‘slow down’, finding the government has lost many potential supporters for reform both within and outside the NHS. The report concludes what everyone working in healthcare already knows: good staff are in full flight because the organisations they belong to are being abolished without a solid structure to replace them; the new commissioning boards are likely to be even larger and further away from the patient than the old ones; and there is a real worry among patients about the conflict of interest between GPs’ roles as providers and commissioners of services.
In fact, the report finds that Labour’s practice-based commissioning programme was successful precisely because it took time and avoided a top-down approach – two New Labour lessons the Tories have singularly failed to note, despite all the noise they made in opposition. When it comes to public service reform, the Conservatives look increasingly like amateurs rather than innovators.
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