Editorial: Where would a Brown premiership take us?

Stephen Cook, editor

The new political season brings forward uncertainties that were pushed into the background earlier in the year.

The Three Sector Summit, the transfer of functions to the Cabinet Office, the appointment of Ed Miliband, the movement of the Charities Bill through the Commons: all these excitements allowed everyone to stop thinking about the crucial question - who will be heading the Government in a year's time?

The re-emergence of the Blair-Brown struggle means that matters great and small are now being considered in the light of that messy and still inconclusive saga. Some voluntary sector issues, such as the Charities Bill, undoubtedly fall into the 'small' category, but fortunately there's no reason to believe it won't now go through. The danger is more that it is pushed through with a public benefit provision that takes insufficient account of parliamentary and sector disquiet and leaves the Charity Commission holding the baby.

But one of the great questions at the heart of the Blair-Brown wrangle - the reform of public services - is closely bound up with the voluntary sector, and it is not easy to read the runes. We know the Prime Minister advocates radical transformation of the delivery of public services and envisages the sector playing a strong role: trust schools are the most contentious example. Blair's vision has been seized upon by those, most notably Acevo, that are pushing for more public service delivery.

What is not so clear is whether Brown has the same or a similar vision of the future. He doesn't dissent, but neither does he endorse wholeheartedly - and this fosters the thought that he has an agenda that differs in significant ways and will not be revealed unless and until he becomes leader.

It is at least clear that Brown does not adhere to an unreconstructed statist approach to the provision of public services. At the same time, the likelihood is that he does not want to go as far down the road of reform as Blair, and that there would be fewer service delivery opportunities for the sector if he came to power.

He might instead put a greater emphasis on measures such as encouraging the public sector to adopt lessons from the voluntary sector. At the moment - as in many things Brown-ian - we just don't know enough about it. So if he becomes leader, there's a good case for him to tell us a lot more and call a General Election.

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