Labour’s key message over the next nine months as it makes the push to win the general election in May 2015 is: “You cannot trust the Tories with public services.”
It is worth pausing and digesting that thought and then considering what happened between 1997 and 2013 in Rotherham, where public services in effect allowed at least 1,400 children to be seriously sexually abused. The political question that has arisen from last week’s shocking report about the South Yorkshire town was: “Can we trust Labour to run our public services?”
The answer for the victims and their families, and the one we will hear from the Conservatives, is “No”.
If Rotherham was an isolated case, such an attack might be thought unwarranted. But it is not.
The Mid-Staffordshire hospital scandal resulted in the deaths of an estimated 400 to 1,200 patients as a result of poor care over the 50 months between January 2005 and March 2009. The Labour health secretary Andy Burnham, who failed to act properly when the scandal first broke, is still the shadow health secretary today. Not a week goes by when the Tories do not mention this.
Since 1997, the services of Rotherham Council, along with South Yorkshire Police, have not only failed to protect young girls from appalling sexual abuse but actually suppressed and ignored three reports that warned about it.
So far, just two people have resigned while many others are arguably being protected by Labour, such as Rotherham Council’s former chief executive Ged Fitzgerald, now chief executive of the Labour-dominated Liverpool Council.
Much has been made of the current police commissioner Shaun Wright, who for many years was chair of the children’s services committee and has, in effect, been pushed out of Labour. While it is probably fair that he is the target of much of the opprobrium, he is also a handy scapegoat.
Rotherham poses a problem for Labour because it is one of many places it effectively runs as a one-party state.
Currently, 57 of the 63 councillors in Rotherham come from Labour.
In addition, many council officers in places like Rotherham are also in the party.
Unison, the main union for council workers, donated £19,665,505.39 to Labour between 2001 and 2012. This creates self-serving closed circles where the employees and the employers are one, and there is very little scrutiny.
Part of the solution is to draw a lesson from Scotland and introduce some form of proportional representation at local government level. Only this can break the one-party states and, in the long run, will save Labour from inflicting reputational damage on itself.