Martin Bright

Returning to the fray

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I am travelling to Conservative Party conference in Birmingham today and thought this would be a good time to return to this blog. Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments in my absence. As ever, I will try to respond where I can. I should be up to full speed during the week.

Meanwhile, I thought I would lay out the five themes I will be addressing over the coming weeks. So do feel free to  provide me with ideas. I'm sure you will.

1. Ed Miliband may not be the answer, but he is a pretty good question for Labour. The new Labour leader is neither their equivalent of William Hague nor Iain Duncan Smith. The party needs a period of reflection in opposition to work through a thoughtful response to the Coalition government. Will he provide the necessary leadership?

2. The Coalition has chosen to impose cuts and reform the health service, schools and the welfare state at the same time. A bold move, Sir Humphrey might say. But is this just right-wing utopianism? And do the practicalities of the process leave ministers hostage to the civil service, which has the task of modelling the reforms?

3. What exactly is the Big Society? There is no particular reason that this idea had to come from the political right. Indeed, I'm sure that if the Labour Party has thought of the phrase they would have used it. Mutualism, encouraging the voluntary sector, citizen activism: these are all concepts David Miliband would have been quite comfortable with. But how does this square with contracting out vast swathes of the NHS and welfare to work to giant companies in the private sector?

4. While the government's job is to deliver, the job of opposition is not just to hold ministers to account, but to provide alternative ideas. Who is doing this within the Labour Party and the wider left? The new constellation of left-leaning think tanks provides some clues. Nick Pearce at the IPPR and Kitty Ussher at Demos are both highly capable and Sunder Katwala at the Fabians is always good value (although he should really be in parliament). But will they come up with some big ideas for the new Labour leader?

5. I have spent the summer working on my charity, New Deal of the Mind. This has brought me into direct contact with the new thinking around Welfare to Work. The Single Work Programme is probably the dullest title for a major reform ever invented, but will it completely transform the way people are put back to work as promised?