Leaked letter opens the floodgates

First published on Progressonline

David Cameron has made a pig’s ear of it again. A leaked letter that he is pressuring his local council to resist the worst implications of George Osborne’s cuts is either confirmation that Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity politics is catching on or that the prime minister has no idea what the implications of his own policies are in his own back garden. You decide.

Either way – Labour has seen the chink in his armour and is pressing its advantage. Jonathan Ashworth – member of parliament for Leicester South and shadow Cabinet Office minister – was straight on Cameron’s flagrant disregard of the Ministerial Code as he offers up use of the No 10 Policy Unit to provide free consultancy to his local struggling Tory council.

The Oxfordshire county council leader Ian Hudspeth – who is keen to set the record straight and remind the Witney MP that his government has cut 37 per cent of Oxfordshire’s budget – has already said he will take up the prime minister’s offer of a meeting with the policy unit ‘as quickly as possible‘ as he is ‘open to all suggestions that will help’.

But that is not where it ends. Labour’s Michael Payne, deputy leader of Gedling council has said, ‘if private No 10 Policy Unit advice is good enough for Oxfordshire it should be good enough for Nottinghamshire too.’ He has a point …

The only way Cameron’s offer is not breaking strict civil service rules is if this offer is open to all councils. Labour’s council leaders – moderate and modernising in the same vein as Jim McMahon, the recently selected candidate in he Oldham West and Royton by-election – are keen to get the free advice for themselves. If the new head of the unit Camilla Cavendish is anything like Michael Barber who went before her under Labour, her advice will be a key resource for local councils trying to transform services and live within the rapid budget reductions brought it by Osborne. Cavendish – who until 2010 was chief leader writer at the Times – will be no stranger to consultancy like this following her very successful days at McKinsey – the global 9,000-strong consultancy firm.

The leadership of Gedling, Lambeth, Brighton and Newcastle have been first to request their own one-to-one with the Policy Unit. As many as 116 Labour leaders could request advice from No 10. Oxfordshire Tory Hudspeth has got his meeting sorted. Will others – of all parties and none – get their turn?

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Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets @RichardAngell

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