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January 05, 2010


Tom Freeman

Life imitates art? The "fourth sector" was one of Nicola Murray's vapid initiatives in an episode of The Thick Of It:

"It's all about empowering ordinary people to do extraordinary things. The Fourth Sector is between the other three sectors, but it's also the periphery around them, so it's very much encompassing. It's incorporating, it's enveloping, within and without. We want to elect certain people as fourth sector pathfinders who are ordinary people doing extraordinary things within their community... but are not vigilantes."

Richard Manns

"Decentralisation of power" does not mean "hand-over to trades unions"; I seem to recall that Arthur Scargill wasn't a fan of votes in the million-strong NUM, and liked to centralise decision-making to himself?

Luis Enrique

First there is the question of whether the fourth sector will do a better job of "looking after the needy" than the state.

If the state under the Tories reduces its "helping the needy" and relies on the fourth sector, you could call that class war if the needy end up worse off. But they could end up better off - this is an empirical question the answer to which I don't know, although if I had to guess I'd guess worse off.

There's a secondary question on whether it's right to rely on the efforts of the good hearted, rather than just paying people to do the job of caring for the needy, in whatever form.

What's the third sector? I thought that was charities and NGOs. Aren't trade unions more like a 3rd sector organization?

Tom P

"the million-strong NUM"

you what now? I don't think it was ever that strong, but certainly not in the mid-80s.

wot t'other Tom said about The Thick Of It. Has Matthew Parris made a mistake or is this genuine Cameron Newspeak?


It's government of all the talents (GOAT), surely? If Nicola Murray has a good idea, then Dave should use it. In fact, why not make Rebecca Front a minister and have a reality TV show around her attempts to make the transition from brilliant comedy actor to useless Cameron Crumpet.


I am a huge fan of this blog, to which I link regularly from my twitter account. I am a New Yorker and know zilch about English politics, with the exception of "The end of politics", which I loved. However, I have to disagree on this one on very generic grounds. Trade Unions are vastly centralized organizations and have often monopolistic power. They are also hardly voluntary. In several countries, membership and fees were mandatory for a number of industries. I don't know if Thatcher's attack was motivated by a class struggle. For sure unions, as "voluntary" organizations, seem to have lost their thrust a long time ago. Cameron's "big idea" has to do much more with the tension between decentralized knowledge and centralized decisions, which hayekian conservatives resolve in favor of the former, while totalitarian conservatives and progressives emphasize the latter. I am not sure this is a big idea or a new one. It always receives a lot of lip service, but it is quickly forgotten after the elections.

john b

But then, that’s the thing about class war - the Tories have always been so much better at it than Labour.

This reflects the fact that being a succesful government politician *inherently means* you're not working class, even if you were born working class, as you're doing a highly-paid skilled managerial job.

So to the extent that Labour represents the working class, it's because its MPs are sufficiently principled to favour other people's interests ahead of their own.

For Tory MPs, making all decisions on the basis of self-interest will generally also serve the interests of core Tory oters.


I'm surprised at the idea proposed in this post that trades unions exist to represent the interests of the needy. I thought they existed to represent the collective interests of workers? Many needy people aren't workers - a key kind of neediness is the need for work - and therefore don't have a union to represent them. Indeed it is quite plausible that there are more such needy people as a result of union power, which protects the interests of labour market insiders partly at the expense of labour market outsiders.

No doubt the public sector unions will resist any attempts to undermine their monopoly on the provision of services to the needy if Cameron gets too serious about it.

Luis Enrique


yes I thought that, although I'd also say that workers need some bargaining power to push back against employers, especially those doing traditionally working class jobs, so I think you can say Trade Unions help the needy, in that sense.


If it challenges those aims - as trades unionism did - it is to be crushed.

Or it gets subsumed and perverted to support the interests of the political classes as has now happened with trade unionism (and has been so for a long time).

Thatcher's battles look to me more like an attack on another part of the political class (and the miners got stuck in the middle).

Ugg london

Never frown, when you are sad, because you never know who is falling in love with your smile.

Mark T

Trade unions didn't challenge the state; they were the state and as we now know actively encouraged by our friends in the KGB. Attacking them was no more an assault on the working class than tearing down the anti fascist barrier in Berlin was 10 years later. Unions represent their members at best and their leaders most of the time.

Belstaff Coat

It's great to hear from you and see what you've been up to. In your blog I feel your enthusiasm for life. thank you.

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