Echoes of Tony Blair in Cameron’s “big society”, but . . .

. . . at least he has a Big Idea and his pet philosophy is to be turned into action plans for Whiteh

After two months of doom and gloom from the coalition, David Cameron has today tried to give voters something to smile about. His invitation to join the government of Britain that he used during the election campaign is now to be turned into a programme of action, or structural reform plans, for every Whitehall department.

Cameron doesn't like systems of bureaucratic accountability, nor targets, nor performance indicators. So instead of targets, his structural reform plans will include specific deadlines for specific action. Sounds like a target to me!

I wonder what happens when a deadline for action doesn't get met? Apparently, these will bring democratic accountability and create the structures that put people in charge. So if the government fails to meet its specific deadlines, we can vote it out? Doesn't sound so radical when you put it like that.

Maybe senior civil servants will be sacked? Without performance indicators, maybe pigs will fly.

Cameron's got a big idea and he's proud of it. Having outlined plans to cut back the state in the name of deficit reduction, he now sees the space for the "big society" to blossom. Today he has shown that his pre-election "heir to Blair" positioning is here to stay, as he argues in favour of competition between organisations providing public services because it's the richest who can opt out while the poorest have to take what they are given. Choice is back.

Cameron even lays claim to Blair's record, saying that the academies are transforming education results and foundation hospitals are bringing the very best care to the people who need it most. Yet this is the reform agenda that Ed Balls has said led to the impression that Labour was against hard-working public servants. Lest we forget Blair's forces of conservatism speech and the wreckers of reform briefings.

More importantly, Cameron's call for more independence and more freedom as an automatic mechanism for raising standards across the board rewrites the history of Labour's second term, a time when public spending and capital investment were rising year on year. New Labour at its best was always a combination of investment and reform. Building Schools for the Future was an investment programme that complemented academy freedoms and both were used by the education department to negotiate change with local authorities.

The big political challenge during deficit reduction is to articulate a credible reform agenda that can operate in an age of austerity. Today, Cameron didn't produce a list of private and third-sector suppliers who have agreed to provide public services on a payment-by-results basis. That was the test set for Blair when he announced the academies programme.

And perhaps most importantly, if Cameron is going to design the necessity of provider failure in to his competitive system, what happens to the poor -- who can't opt out -- when the services they rely on inevitably fail?

This agenda is as important for Labour's leadership candidates to get to grips with as the issue of deficit reduction, or electoral reform. These three debates look like they will define politics over the next year. And in an age of new politics, Labour's new leader will need something new to say about how New Labour has moved on.

Richard Darlington is head of the Open Left project at Demos.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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Are there “tens of thousands” who still don't have their Labour leadership ballot paper?

Word has it that swathes of eligible voters have yet to receive their ballot papers, suggesting there is still all to play for in the Labour leadership contest. But is it true?

Is there still all to play for in the Labour leadership contest?

Some party insiders believe there is, having heard whispers following the bank holiday weekend that “tens of thousands” of eligible voters have yet to receive their ballot papers.

The voting process closes next Thursday (10 September), and today (1 September) is the day the Labour party suggests you get in touch if you haven’t yet been given a chance to vote.

The impression here is that most people allowed to vote – members, registered supporters, and affiliated supporters – should have received their voting code over email, or their election pack in the post, by now, and that it begins to boil down to individual administrative problems if they’ve received neither by this point.

But many are still reporting that they haven’t yet been given a chance to vote. Even Shabana Mahmood MP, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, still hasn’t received her voting pack, as she writes on the Staggers, warning us not to assume Jeremy Corbyn will win. What’s more, Mahmood and her team have heard anecdotally that there are still “tens of thousands” who have been approved to vote who have yet to receive their ballot papers.

It’s important to remember that Mahmood is an Yvette Cooper supporter, and is using this figure in her piece to argue that there is still all to play for in the leadership race. Also, “tens of thousands” is sufficiently vague; it doesn’t give away whether or not these mystery ballot-lacking voters would really make a difference in an election in which around half a million will be voting.

But there are others in the party who have heard similar figures.

“I know people who haven’t received [their voting details] either,” one Labour political adviser tells me. “That figure [tens of thousands] is probably accurate, but the party is being far from open with us.”

“That’s the number we’ve heard, as of Friday, the bank holiday, and today – apparently it is still that many,” says another.

A source at Labour HQ does not deny that such a high number of people are still unable to vote. They say it’s difficult to work out the exact figures of ballot papers that have yet to be sent out, but reveal that they are still likely to be, “going out in batches over the next two weeks”.

A Labour press office spokesperson confirms that papers are still being sent out, but does not give me a figure: “The process of sending out ballot papers is still under way, and people can vote online right up to the deadline on September 10th.”

The Electoral Reform Services is the independent body administrating the ballot for Labour. They are more sceptical about the “tens of thousands” figure. “Tens of thousands? Nah,” an official at the organisation tells me.

“The vast majority will have been sent an email allowing them to vote, or a pack in one or two days after that. The idea that as many as tens of thousands haven’t seems a little bit strange,” they add. “There were some last-minute membership applications, and there might be a few late postal votes, or a few individuals late to register. [But] everybody should have definitely been sent an email.”

Considering Labour’s own information to voters suggests today (1 September) is the day to begin worrying if you haven’t received your ballot yet, and the body in charge of sending out the ballots denies the figure, these “tens of thousands” are likely to be wishful thinking on the part of those in the party dreading a Corbyn victory.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.