Via Tim Fenton's Zelo Street blog, this heap of background on everyone's favourite rip-it-up-and-start-again Maoist Eric Pickles looks worth ploughing through, not least because I've always wondered how someone with substantial experience in actual administration has been so abjectly hopeless in office.
With his hand picked Core group in place, Pickles began searching for detained [sic] policy inspiration. He contacted Conservative Central Office and asked if they had a model radical "manifesto" for a local authority like Bradford. The answer was "No".
The sneaking suspicion that the abject hopelessness is part of the plan still remains, however. My current operating model for the Pickles/Shapps DCLG is that the influence of Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh of Hammersmith & Fulham (who if memory serves led Cameron's policy unit on local government) leads him to believe as an article of faith that everyone else in local government just hasn't been a sufficiently unpleasant propagandist Tory glibertarian, and should stop complaining and get slashing.
Another thought is that this deliberately ignorant attitude leaves it open to the opposition to pull the Hamas/Hizbollah/Mahdi Army trick - the one where you take advantage of the vacuum where the state's authority should be to run local services and thereby turn the population to your side. After all, the great unspoken problem with Afghanistan is that desperate people eventually prefer Taliban justice to no justice, and the best thing in the UK context is that you don't actually have to create the vacuum where the state's authority used to be when Eric is doing this for you. When we're talking (as appears to be happening continuously at present) about tools for activists, tools for running local services staffed on a politically motivated volunteer system would possibly have a market. It would also have the happy dual feature of meeting Alex's definition of a useful tool *and* eating the lunch of the big IT services companies who are no doubt looking at the smashed remains of the welfare state and all the 'shared services' guff as a profit opportunity.
On which note, it's interesting to wrap up by noting that one of the first 'shared services' is ultra-Tory Wandsworth and ultra-Picklesian Hammersmith teaming up their spin doctor services. They're not hiding this very well, are they?