Get your tickets for the mud-wrestling ....
I haven't fully thought this through. Excuse the lapses, my own prejudices and my recurring instinct to take half-a dozen people from local Community "Networks", tie them to Walton's Spire at the edge of the moorland and leave the crows and feral ferrets to do their work. Community art installation, mateys.
The Ruth Kelly brief for a Department of Communities, Local Government, and so-on sits uneasily alongside Hilary Armstrong's brief for social exclusion and the Third Sector. This Third Sector comprises voluntary and community sector organisations, charities and social enterprises. "A new office for the sector in the Cabinet Office will bring greater coherence to the Government's approach to the sector." Indeed. Let me observe that parts of the Third Sector, using the natural goodwill of people who wish to work for their community in a voluntary capacity, provides vehicles for those whose comprehension of ethics, humanity and rights might be called into question. I refer to those self-elevating bullies or dimwits-with-chutzpah who seek to dominate and get their way over the rather more well-intentioned and naive who make efforts to help the local and wider community.
It is years since I first commented on the government kidnap of the community and charitable sectors. Yes, yes, I know good work is being done. Those who know me personally know I largely abandoned the wider sector several years ago and might be open to the accusation of wearing the entire output of Phillips Lane Chippy on my shoulders.
To recap, Ruth Kelly's Department for Communities and Local Government has a remit of community cohesion and equality, as well as responsibility for housing, urban regeneration and renewal, planning and local government with further responsibility policy for race, faith, gender and sexual orientation. Hilary Armstrong is Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster and the Cabinet Minister for Social Exclusion, based in the Cabinet Office. This will be to co-ordinate an agenda to tackle social exclusion. Hilary Armstrong will take responsibility for the “third sector”, supported by a Parliamentary Secretary, drawing together the different parts of Whitehall that currently deal with voluntary and community sector organisations and social enterprises. The office for the sector is in the Cabinet Office.
There is the potential for conflict in policy between Armstrong and Kelly. Either they must be bedmates in policy matters or there will be a battle-royal.How on earth can you separate Social Exclusion and the Third Sector from Communities and Local Government? I'd really like to know.
It is NOT possible to separate the impact of policies for the Turd Sector and those of regeneration, renewal and local government. They are inextricably intermeshed. Remember that, since the reorganisation of Local Government, we have multi-borough Local Strategic Partnerships (LSP's). These include unelected representatives from the "Communities" drawn from the various "Community Networks" which purport to bring together the interests of - again unelected - "Community Groups". I could - and probably will (Not again - Ed) expand on that element of perversion of voluntary efforts. There is a great distinction between an old way of having less formal community groups lobby and work practically with established institutions of local government and commerce to actually giving groups the illusion of power in a wider field. "We are listening to the Community". Again, within the mess, some good work gets done.
LSP's also include representatives from Industry and Commerce, and, come to think of it, Local Councils. The views and policy input from such groups are wide open to entryism - particularly by faith-groups - and wide-open to narrow-minded or ego-centric opinion. Bring back the stocks. Hurrah for the Ducking-stool. Imprison the children. God is the with me every day.
The impact of the Third Sector is over-rated - an output box will be ticked each time anyone rings up or visits about anything...and the cost-effectiveness of the new self-serving Third Sector of employment (people who manage the Third Sector and continue the spin to justify its existence and understandably safeguard their jobs) is somewhat absent. All this fed largely by various forms of Grant funding - whether through government (including EU) related sources or from major Charitable Foundations which have, in effect, been forced to alter their policies and funding priorities with the disproportionate demand on their funds which has arisen from the government-influenced Turd Sector. A true heap of shit. An illusion of extending local democracy under the tight scrutiny of central authority.
Let us then not forget the other element of the Third Sector and Social Policing. The Treasury. The Third Sector involves an expanding number of community-related charities and charitable companies. The functions of the Charity Commission are being rolled up into the broad responsibilities of the Inland Revenue (who now incorporate HM Customs) and Charity Law is undergoing major reform alongside that. So Brown (and young Mister Timms, Chief Secretary to the Treasury – seen as a fast track to cabinet Office) will have some impact on the direction of Kelly and Armstrong's Departments.
It is at the local level that the effective ruthlessness of new forms of "soft"-fascism and social policing will be most visible. This illustrates the importance of that thinking within the government. It is insidious, it is erosive, and it gives power to bigotry, to the small-mind, rather than to reason and imagination. And it further diminishes the authority of elective local government and increases that of the employed bureaucracy (we're not supposed to criticise government servants).
I'll be selling tickets (along with Gordon Brown) for the first of many mud-wrestling bouts between Ms Kelly and Ms Armstrong. Bet Ms Kelly wins - Catholic Girls always were vicious on the Hockey-field. Or perhaps Young Mister Timms will join in.
Meanwhile, will someone kindly lock-up all the local kids, exorcise every rented home, drown the thick young mothers up the street, burn the heroin dealer at the stake and puncture the ear-drums of all those young chaps driving around with 300 watt bass speakers? And lend me a flame-thrower in case none of that gets done? Sorry - I haven't got a pyrotechnics licence and entirely omitted the risk-assessment. Mind you, I now have a Level 3 NVQ in cynicism.