Edition number 28; dateline 2 March 2010

Shibboleths of public service: stand up, speak out

A general election is imminent and many agencies and organisations are holding their breath until a general election is called to decide the future direction of the nation. One organisation to which The Leisure Review recently spoke explained that while they had a manifesto prepared, they were not prepared to publish it before the election. They conceded with good grace that this rather undermined the point of a manifesto but they felt that they would be putting themselves in a vulnerable position if they were open about their beliefs and desires before they knew who would be holding the political reins. Entering into the spirit of a jovial conversation, they did not deny the suggestion that that they might have at least two versions of a document that was supposed to outline the organisation’s credo.

It is, of course, sensible, reasonable and entirely predictable that organisations dependent in part or whole on government policy for their existence should be careful but it is frustrating that so much activity is put on hold so regularly while we get on with the business of general and local elections. The doubly frustrating thing is that such a carefully preserved position of non-committal would seem to be largely irrelevant in a political landscape in which all the major policy decisions have been accepted by all political parties in advance. Perhaps to an extent not seen in British politics for a century, this will be a general election in which the future direction of the country has already been decided.

It is something of an irony – more correctly, a contradiction – that there should be such certainty among the political classes when so many people outside Westminster think that there is so much that needs to be discussed. It has become an article of faith for politicians that the correct – the only – response to the financial crisis concocted and compounded by the demands and desires of wanton commercial speculation is the cutting – perhaps the literal, although not fatal, decimation – of public services. According to the political realities as perceived by so many of the expensively educated and carefully schooled politicians who inhabit the upper reaches of the Labour and Conservative (and, for all we know, the LibDem) parties, it is those who will be hardest hit by cuts in public services that must pay the price of creating wealth for a tiny cabal who were sufficiently skilful and venal to pass the cost of this wealth creation on to the state.

The election countdown clock that hangs on the wall of The Leisure Review office requires two things to happen before the hand begins to sweep round on its journey towards Peter Snow on Newsnight’s Election Special. Both are statements by politicians from any constituency, office or party. They are: “We’ll devolve power to local people”; and “We’ll reduce public expenditure through efficiencies in the welfare system.” These statements are the shibboleths of the trite, the patronising and the dishonest. They have started the clock in every election since 1979 and the clock started to tick away in this campaign months ago.

What has the bile and belligerence of a TLR editorial got to do with sport, leisure and culture? I’m not sure I know but I do know that the sport, leisure and cultural services provided by the public sector are among the few things that politicians could legitimately point to as a source of efficiency, effectiveness and national pride. Where local economies and communities have been devastated by greed and the systematic redistribution of wealth from the poor to the grotesquely wealthy, all of which has been condoned, delivered and refined by successive Conservative and Labour governments, sport, leisure and cultural services have done their level best to pick up the pieces. That they should be expected so to do with constrained budgets and reduced staff levels to an accompaniment of the self-righteous, self-aggrandizing and self-interested bleatings of national politicians should be a source of shame to everyone who has ever sat on a bench, be it green or red, in the Palace of Westminster. And yes, Lord Ashcroft, with your dishonest, disreputable and quasi-legal tax status, and yes, Mr Blair, with your practised and rehearsed self-justification, your highly lucrative and exploitative international speaking engagements, and your £4 million house in Connaught Square, I mean you. And many, many more like you who are pocketing their parliamentary pensions and getting ready to stand down from the demands of their ‘public service’ or getting ready to come up to Westminster to destroy so much of the precious historic public realm (of which the BBC is only one fine and noble example) at the behest of non-tax-paying interests of international business people (of which Rupert Murdoch is only one egregious and ignoble example).

Meanwhile, the New Economic Foundation suggests that it costs about £140,000 a year to incarcerate a young offender and in response to this research the Ministry of Justice (sic) claims that “a key part of our approach to youth crime is to prevent people turning to crime”.

As Bob Dylan once said, you’ve got a lot of nerve.

Jonathan Ives



letter from the editor
The Leisure Review editorial

last edition


other news

contact the editor


“It is something of an irony – more correctly, a contradiction – that there should be such certainty among the political classes when so many people outside Westminster think that there is so much that needs to be discussed.”

an independent view for the leisure industry








about us

contact us