We’ve noted before that the coalition is terribly prone to people with an eye-catching initiative, especially if it can be represented as American, and that this leads them to deal with some seriously odd people, like the creepy Straussian neo-con Larry Mead, who thinks that the real problem with fascism is that it forced us to “solve every problem with freedom”. Also, the key minister here is Iain Duncan Smith, who an analysis of the released government meetings data shows to be one of the most lobbied men in government.
Here’s a useful case study.
Clay Yeager’s eye-catching initiative is “early intervention”, which suggests it’s possible to stop poor kids ending up expensively in the criminal justice/psychiatric complex by providing targeted assistance early in life. There’s absolutely nothing strange about the idea in itself, and in fact it may well seem more than a bit familiar. The problems start with the presentation and leak inwards from there. Yeager’s sell (and it is very much a sell - his current job is as CEO of a profit-making company that provides “consultancy” in early intervention) is as follows:
Yeager says the Communities that Care programme grew from just eight to 128 areas in less than a decade and saw a 10% drop in juvenile crime rates and a 33% improvement in educational performance.
Sounds great. He’s talking about the 1990s, though, and one thing everyone should by now know about the crime rate since 1990 is that it’s been falling steadily everywhere in the industrialised world. We don’t know why, and there are all kinds of theories, but we do know that it fell and continues to fall. So you’d need very strong evidence indeed to show that Yeager’s policy had anything to do with it. In the 90s, you could have painted every second kerbstone pink and achieved a 10% crime reduction.
Actually, Yeager is a bit of a specialist in taking credit and badmouthing everyone else:
"It's evidence based. And we have had in America 50 years since the war on poverty was declared. No funding on any anti-poverty programme has ever been effective. The gap is in fact growing. We have to rethink these issues."
Nothing - ever?
But this isn’t the most worrying thing here. Yeager’s patron was Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, and his presentation is all about US culture-war tropes.
Back in the 1990s, "strategic investments" to, say, prevent crime was a hard sell in a traditionally Democratic state such as Pennsylvania, which focused on poverty alleviation and big government programmes, says Yeager.
So what does “early intervention” consist of, then?
Yeager is also keen on family nurse partnerships – which offer intensive support for vulnerable, first-time young parents – and was chief executive of the NGO that promoted the scheme. Devised by developmental psychologist David Olds, the system, first started in 1978 – and which has been championed in Britain by health secretary Andrew Lansley – showed remarkable advances in outcomes for children visited by family nurses.
To put it another way, he wants to identify “vulnerable” kids by digging through a pile of stats (elsewhere in the piece, it turns out that he has a 19-factor checklist), and assign welfare staff to look after them. In what way isn’t this “big government”? In what way isn’t this “poverty alleviation”? What’s wrong with alleviating poverty anyway? (It seems to be a US Republican codeword for “black people”, for what it’s worth.) Also, how does this differ from the good old health visitor, that icon of the Bevanite welfare state?
More to the point, it sounds a lot like Sure Start and you know what’s likely to happen to that. It’s not the only thing that will remind you of Tony Blair here.
But his efforts coincided with the arrival on to the political scene of Ridge, a new kind of centrist Republican, who had campaigned on a slogan that it was one thing to get tough on crime, but it was another to get "smart" on crime.
Tough on crime, tough on the…we see. Also, a new kind of centrist Republican, eh? Sounds familiar. Ridge also invented the Department of Homeland Security, so you can see the join between the guff and the reality quite clearly here.
The real point here is quite clear: it’s about union-bashing and privatisation.
Yeager, who left government service in 2002 and now acts as a consultant to governments and universities, says "the key to success is that private companies that run the schemes could share in the savings to the taxpayer. That's their incentive. The [reason] why these programmes never take off is that in government there is no incentive to do this work. That is why in New York recently you had unions refusing to close down a facility with 105 staff that only looked after three kids. During these challenging economic times, leaders have to make investments in research-driven efforts that change outcomes for children, families and communities."
Note the detail that Yeager’s company doesn’t just want a fee upfront - he wants a percentage of the whole budget, forever anon. You wonder why the Tories need to import bullshit - don’t we have enough bullshitters and canny concession-hunters in Britain? What is the UK Border Agency doing?