I spent many happy hours researching the rise of Tony Blair through his work on Standing Committees, as they were called then, on trade union and electricity privatisation Bills of the Thatcher period. You could see in the minutes of those committees how he picked up the craft of legislation, and of effective opposition.
Last week I looked at the minutes of the committee discussing the Consumer Rights Bill. Stella Creasy is leading for Labour on the Bill, and on Thursday she urged the Government to extend its protections to the public sector – helping to confound the notion that Ed Miliband’s Labour is unwilling to reform public services.
She tabled amendments designed to ensure that “all traders offering services on behalf of any government department or local or public authority shall ensure the consumer is able to access information regarding any consumer contract” (see column 510).
Jenny Willott, the Liberal Democrat minister responsible, said that the Bill wasn’t intended to apply to the public sector, but under further questioning admitted that it did apply where there were contracts involving payment. Thus the Bill would not apply to Asbos (or whatever they are called now), but did apply to childcare vouchers and – after she had consulted her officials – to university tuition fees.
A good day’s work for Creasy, who had made her point about consumer rights and openness in the public sector, putting Labour on the side of the consumer whether in the private or public sectors.
Miliband should promote her at once. She is such a tireless advocate of consumers, whether they are being ensnared by payday lenders or whether they are the users of unresponsive public services, that a prominent role for her would do wonders in dispelling the notion that Labour is the party of the producer interest in the public sector.
Footnote: In between holding the minister to account, Creasy carried on a running conversation with Steve Baker, the Tory MP for Wycombe, about books, mentioning Habermas, Kropotkin and, later on, Albert Hirschman and TH Marshall, saying “it is important that people are contemplative when it comes to legislation”. How true.