Think-tank goes public on private funding

Nick Cohen's profile of the Institute for Public Policy Research (21 August) makes a number of false accusations about our Commission on Public Private Partnerships (which is not just looking at the private finance initiative, as Cohen reports). Anyone who has read our publications would not recognise Cohen's account. All of them make clear that the objective of the commission is to increase the quality of, and commitment to, publicly funded services. Privatisation is not, and never has been, on our agenda. Our publications will continue to raise difficult issues for government and reflect the views of both sides of the debate on PPPs.

The question of how best to deliver public services raises complex political and ethical questions, which is why we have asked more than 600 public, private, voluntary and community organisations to inform us about their experience of partnerships; undertaken focus groups with front-line workers in public services; and are polling citizens on their views. We have also held seminars on PPPs with leading trade unions and continue to discuss our work with a wide cross-section of groups. All this is information we would have been happy to share with Cohen, had he taken the time to contact us before he wrote his piece.

Gavin Kelly
Secretary of the Commission on Public Private Partnerships, IPPR

This article first appeared in the 28 August 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Secrecy laws will never be the same

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.