‘Gordon Brown’s secret army could defeat the Coalition’s welfare and education reforms’
Britain’s charities and quangos are now stuffed to the gunwales with Labour placemen, writes (£23,517 a year) Dollar Academy ‘educated’ gobshite and right-wing rag ‘The Spectator’ Editor, Fraser Nelson.
‘Iain Duncan Smith’s sensible proposed reforms to welfare spending have run into predictable opposition from the Child Poverty Action Group, Save the Children, and the National Society for the Protection of Children’ says FRASER NELSON’ Photo: Geoff Pugh
Only now, long after the election, do we begin to realise how clever Gordon Brown really was.
After the crash, in his last two years in office, he started preparing for a new kind of Opposition. Labour might be turfed out of government, but it could carry on the fight through charities, quangos and think tanks.
At one stage, Brown had a team in Downing Street devoted to appointments in public bodies, carefully building what would become a kind of government-in-exile.
And if the Tories tried anything radical – like welfare reform – then Labour’s new fifth columnists would strike.
We saw this yesterday, when Iain Duncan Smith trailed a speech about welfare and poverty. A now familiar welcoming committee rose up early to greet him.
The Child Poverty Action Group declared that there are no jobs to be had, so why punish those on welfare?
A revered charity, Save the Children, has identified government cuts as a major threat to British children.
Even the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children warns that the “most vulnerable” children are “bearing the brunt” of Cameron’s cuts.
And hearing them all, who would your average listener believe: a politician, or a charity worker?
But these charities are not the kindly tin-rattlers they were.
In 2008, Brown changed the rules so charities could join political campaigns.
In theory, they could support any party – but as Brown knew, not many would use these powers to demand smaller taxes.
It was a masterstroke.
The charities sharpened their claws by hiring former Labour apparatchiks.
Save the Children is now run by Justin Forsyth, Brown’s ex-strategy chief.
The NSPCC has hired Peter Watt, a former Labour general secretary.
Damian McBride is working for Cafod.
Britain’s charities are nurturing a colourful, talented and efficient anti-Tory alliance.
Perhaps Brown’s cleverest move was his deal with the unions.
After the election, Tory ministers were surprised to see trade union officials with security passes entering government departments.
It slowly dawned that, from the NHS to the MoD, civil servants were being paid by the Government to work for the trade unions.
Add it all up (as the TaxPayers’ Alliance has) and a staggering 3,000 union officials are being funded by the taxpayer.
This is, in effect, a subsidy of about £86 million to the unions, which then donate to the Labour Party.
It is a rather ingenious scam, and Brown bet that Cameron would not bother to dismantle it.
To be sure, the Prime Minister has been strikingly relaxed about all this.
His allies say that he has been too much of a gentleman to play Labour’s game and start stuffing quangos with Tory placemen.
So the Opposition, to its amazement and delight, has found that it has entered a new golden era of preferment.
This goes well beyond people like Geoff Mulgan, another ex-Labour adviser, being chosen to distribute the Government’s £250 million endowment for science and technology.
Figures out yesterday show that 77 per cent of politically active quango appointees last year were Labour supporters. Not even Gordon Brown dared top up his government-in-exile at such a rate.
The dizzying number of U-turns being performed by the Government shows the trouble it has sustaining any line of argument for very long.
Whether you’re a Downing Street policeman or a badger, it is growing pretty difficult to lose a fight with this Government.
A large part of this is what one Cabinet member (a Cameron ally) described to me as a “lack of prime ministerial grip”. There is plenty of faith in Mr Cameron, but a wish that he would take greater control.
No 10 is pretty bad at that most basic political skill: making and winning arguments.
But the internal machinations of Downing Street would not matter so much if the Conservative message was being conveyed more broadly by other groups.
Instead, Labour has the best proxies.
Right now, when ministers go to make the case for reform, they meet a seemingly never-ending array of enemies.
When even the Royal Society of Arts is producing reports denouncing Gove’s free schools, it is a sign that something has gone badly wrong for the Tories – and right for Labour.
The ideas of Trotsky and Lenin may have failed in Britain, but Gramsci’s notion of a long march through the institutions of power has succeeded.
This goes wider than the well-known Left-wing bias in universities and the judiciary.
The Institute for Economic Affairs has calculated that there are 27,000 charities dependent on the state for at least three quarters of their income.
By and large, any organisation dependent on tax money will argue for more of it.
On a practical level, from shale gas to school dinners, reform is being thwarted by quangos.
If a good idea is implemented without intellectual covering fire then it is doomed, no matter how powerful the minister.
The road to reform is strewn with distinguished corpses.
Tony Blair tried sorting out welfare when he was elected, but gave up within months because he lost the argument.
The cost, in terms of human potential wasted, has been incalculable.
Thatcher’s education minister, Keith Joseph tried to introduce what we know as the Gove reforms, but gave up after defeat at the hands of the Civil Service.
Had he succeeded, sink schools might have become extinct in the 1980s. Gove has made better progress, because he spent three years building a list of outside allies.
As the Education Secretary knows, taking an Act through Parliament is the easy bit.
The real battle starts afterwards.
For Gove, this meant a political cage fight with what Americans call “the blob” – the combined ranks of the school unions, education research establishments and random activists who loathe reform.
He has been bruised and battered, but has been winning after building his own alliance of new school entrepreneurs, teachers and parents crying out for change. Duncan Smith is facing his own “blob”: the charities and think tanks that are increasingly willing him to fail. He has worryingly little backup.
Cameron is, now, taking this more seriously.
He has been trying to build his own alliance of reformers and called a group of them to sit round his Cabinet table last year, but little came of it.
He has also appointed a No 10 official to handle public appointments, and the selection of the writer William Shawcross to run the Charities Commission is a declaration of intent.
But Labour spent more than a decade placing its supporters in quangos and tweaking charity laws, while Tories tend not to think of politics in this way.
These still ought to be relatively good times for Conservative arguments.
Labour policies have taken the country to the brink of economic and social ruin, and there was – and remains – a large appetite for change.
Baroness Thatcher famously said that the facts of life are Conservative, but these facts do not speak for themselves. Politics is, above all, a battle of ideas.
And it is a battle in which David Cameron is in grave need of reinforcements.
Where DID Fraser learn to talk like that? At Dollar?
One’s never met anyone with such an affected accent in all Scotland in all of one’s life! Pretentieux? Qui? Monsieur Nelson? Jamais!
Have posh voice will travel. Fraser in 2010:
What a PILLOCK!