Saturday, December 22, 2007

Could Milburn come back

Some interesting speculation today from Peter Diapre, writing on Boulton and Co, about the possible return of Alan Milburn to a governmental role in 2008.

"With his impeccable working class background and rags to riches story (single mum, council estate etc), he has the right credentials to look at issues such as social mobility. It wouldn't surprise me to see him leading a review of some kind in 2008, or how about a return to government? Watch this space."

For the record, this was what I wrote about the prospect of a Milburn comeback in my Newcastle Journal column a week ago today. I was writing in the context of the damning report published ten days ago which found that social mobility in Britain had ground to a halt.

"The upside for Labour is that there is a challenge here for Gordon Brown which, if he can grasp it, might just give his government the moral purpose it currently lacks, and a way out of its current political malaise.

There is also, if Mr Brown’s pride will permit, an old adversary who could help in that task – Darlington MP Alan Milburn, Labour’s Mr Upward Social Mobility himself in more ways than one.

The former health secretary famously grew up, the child of a single mother, on a council estate in a remote ex-mining town in County Durham.

Yet he himself has stated that he could not now imagine anyone from such a background as his reaching the Cabinet.

He is also, as far as this issue is concerned, Labour’s prophetic voice crying in the wilderness, having first warned about the looming problem as long ago as 2003.

Back then he wrote: “We should aim to reverse the slowing down of social mobility of recent decades. If these trends continue, Britain will be in danger of grinding socially to a halt.

"Getting Britain socially moving demands a new front in the battle for equal life chances. The most substantial inequalities are not simply between income groups but between those who own shares, pensions and housing and those who rely solely on wages or benefits.”

When Mr Milburn wrote those words, it was designed as a possible prospectus for the third term, a call to arms for Labour to be more, not less radical in its thinking

It didn’t work out that way. Although he did come back briefly to help run the election campaign, Mr Milburn along with most of his ideas ended up being marginalised.

Would Mr Brown now pick up the phone and ask Mr Milburn to join his Cabinet line-up? I don’t know, but it would certainly strengthen what is commonly seen as a rather lacklustre team.

Would Mr Milburn, for that matter, ever want to work again with Mr Brown? I don’t know the answer to that either.

I do know, however, that the last time I spoke to Mr Milburn, he was reading Giles Radice’s “Friends and Rivals,” a cautionary tale about three men whose rivalry prevented them working effectively together.

And as the Tories used to say in the days when they regularly won elections, surely now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the party?"

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Paul Evans said...

Met his researcher at a party once. Possibly the least pleasent person I have ever encountered in a social situation.

Anonymous said...

His accent and manner is against him. (I live in the north east and like the lingo) but he speaks like a man trying not to be Geordie and sounds insincere.

A Labour Party driven to desperation by poor new year polls might do strange things.

Charlie Marks said...

This is the guy who helped the Aussie Labourites win the trust of the business community with a New Labour gloss, right?

So. I am sceptical that he gives a shit about working class people. He's opportunistic - Trotskyism, then, neoliberal capitalism now - but I doubt he would convince as some kind of anti-poverty campaigner.

No, I think that the Milburn Tendency (him and Charlie Clarke) will focus on getting Alan Johnson to move against Brown before the next election.

Alan Johnson is the kind of fellow, like Milburn, who got up the ladder with the benefit of the welfare state and are active in destroying it...

Johnson commented on planned changes to the health service in Scotland and Wales:

"I wouldn’t go down the free prescriptions route, as I wouldn’t in a previous life go down the free higher education route."

Justin said...

The thing is, Milburn as a cabinet minister flourished like so many others because he was prepared to dance to whichever tune Tony whistled. He's a lightweight or at least didn't seem to do much to dispel that image. Sure he's *written* about social mobility but words are cheap.

That he should be touted as a possible social inequality czar is some kind of twisted joke. As soon as he stepped down as health secretary he ran as fast as he could to a private equity company. You'll forgive me if I don't think his heart is in the right place. He's not the UK's embodiment of the Horatio Alger myth.