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Dead hand of the Blairites

Ed Miliband's pro-market waffle will not win Labour voters

SCEPTICS observe that opposition politicians always claim that their intention in being elected to office is to redistribute power.

Scepticism is well placed over Ed Miliband’s Hugo Young lecture, where he asserted last night that he wanted to break Whitehall’s grip and devolve control over schools, hospitals and other public services to local people.

This is the Labour leader who was so outraged at the possibility of a single parliamentary candidate being adopted in Falkirk without the approval of the Brewers Green in-crowd that he set in train a process that saw a party inquiry, a police investigation and a steamrollered change in party rules to maintain a centralised grip on what remains of Labour’s internal democracy.

“I get as many people coming to me frustrated by the unresponsive state as the untamed market,” he said, which suggests he ought to leave the metropolitan political bubble more often.

Before Miliband spoke, government minister Ed Davey drew attention to the latest example of energy companies ripping the rest of us off.

That’s in addition to the banks, supermarkets, rail companies and other private interests that systematically fleece us because they can.

Davey’s “response” could have been drafted by Miliband’s speech-writing team, announcing that he has written to Ofgem and the Competition and Markets Authority, asking them to consider all possible remedies, “including a break-up of any companies found to have monopoly power to the detriment of the consumer.”

This mirrors the Labour leader’s proposal that two or three more banks should be encouraged to provide competition to the existing Big Five that milk captive customers.

Why would introducing more players into the cartels that run the energy sector and financial services provide a better service?

Only someone with a naïve and unquenchable belief in the power of markets — even in natural monopolies — to improve services and drive down prices could support such a half-baked solution.

Whatever Miliband’s comments about new Labour’s time having passed when he was elected party leader, he has retained its obsession with private ownership, rejecting any deviation from this economic model.

Fittingly, the people contracted to flesh out policies to sustain his “devolution to the people” flimflam are fully paid-up members of the Blairite undead.

Andrew Adonis, Jon Cruddas and, heaven help us all, David Blunkett are the great thinkers deployed to persuade voters that “private is best” represents a brave new dawn for democracy in Britain.

Blunkett told teachers in 2000 that they could forget about a 35-hour week if they expected to keep the current school holidays.

Teaching must be the easiest job in the world because every politician, from gaffe-prone Michael Gove to Miliband, knows better than education professionals how it should be improved.

The Labour leader sees parents as consumers who should use their market power to “call in” intervention and sack head teachers as though school principals and governors were less able to identify problems and resolve them.

Such cavalier disregard for professional expertise, without discussion with those, including teaching trade unions, better placed to advise, will further demoralise hard-pressed teachers.

Miliband’s half-baked rhetoric won’t deepen democracy. It won’t encourage popular accountability.

But it will reassure parasitic privateers who have muscled in on the public sector that their ill-gotten gains will be safe under Labour while public-sector workers continue paying the price of slashed jobs and services demanded by the bankers’ austerity agenda.

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