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Editor’s blog Tuesday 31 August 2010: Jazz Hands serves up bad ideas

I am probably as unlikely as you are to shell out for Tony 'Jazz Hands' Blair's account of his 'Journey', such as it has thus far been.

Even though the profits will go to a services charity.

A feature in The Guardiansuggests that Tony Jazz"reveals that he has changed his mind about some of Labour's priorities after 1997. They include ... the Freedom of Information Act, which he believes is "not practical" for good government".

Blair tells the paper, "If you are trying to take a difficult decision and you're weighing up the pros and cons, you have frank conversations. Everybody knows this in their walk of life. Whether you are in business – or running a newspaper – there are conversations you want to have preliminary to taking a decision that are frank.

"And if those conversations then are put out in a published form that afterwards are liable to be highlighted in particular ways, you are going to be very cautious. That's why it's not a sensible thing"

Another account suggests that Tony Jazz's peripatetic palimpsest dubs New Labour's initial public service reform attempts as "bunkum", with its faith in "standards not structures".

Below appears an edited selection from the 'reform' extract available from the publisher's website for the book.

NHS Reform (from Chapter 9 Forces Of Conservatism)
"We talked about it and agreed that we would work over the coming months to produce a proper, fully-fledged plan of transformation for the NHS. After some toing and froing we agreed it should be a ten-year plan. The aim should be to change fundamentally the way the NHS was run: to break up the monolith; to introduce a new relationship with the private sector; to import concepts of choice and competition; and to renegotiate the basic contracts of the professionals from nurses to doctors to managers.

"The most important element was that it implied a resolution of what had been revolving in my mind for some time. We had come to power in 1997 saying it was ‘standards not structures’ that mattered. We said this in respect of education, but it applied equally to health and other parts of the system of public services.

"In other words, we were saying: forget about complex, institutional structural reforms; what counts is what works, and by that we meant outputs. This was fine as a piece of rhetoric; and positively beneficial as a piece of politics. Unfortunately, as I began to realise when experience started to shape our thinking, it was bunkum as a piece of policy. The whole point is that structures beget standards. How a service is configured affects outcomes.

"That is, unless you believe that centrally managed change works best. This is where the change in thinking had deep political as well as service implications. Part of the whole thought process that had gone into creating New Labour was to redefine the nature of the state. Except on law and order, I am by instinct a liberal. That is one reason why I used to go out of my way to praise Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge; and why I always had respect as well as affection for the mind of Roy Jenkins.

"In a world in which the individual sought far greater control and power over their own lives, it seemed inconceivable to me that any modern idea of the state could be other than as an enabler, a source of empowerment, rather than paternalistic, handing out, controlling in the interests of the citizens who were supposedly incapable of taking their own decisions. That intuition, that gut feeling then obviously had to be translated into the praxis of state institutions. Really it was as simple as that; a symmetry between the policy and the philosophy.

"From early 2000 onwards, with the funding issue resolved, at least in general terms, Alan and I and a close team of advisers started to work out what would become the ten-year NHS Plan ... it, we needed to become more searching, more radical, more groundbreaking in our approach to the whole post-war settlement around public services and the welfare state, right across the board".

Turning the page seems more than aposite - though not any page of Tony Jazz's memoirs, thank you very much.