from Webcameron to TEDcameron
Last night Prospect‘s arts and books editor Tom Chatfield and I were lucky enough to be part of the 200 or so people packed into Bafta’s auditorium for the widely trailed “secret” Cameron TED talk. Three reflections.
1. People are missing the radicalism in his open contracts announcement. Cameron last night committed to publish the details of all government contracts. Not just IT contracts, which no one noticed they pledged to do in their IT paper before Christmas. ALL contracts. Every contract any contractor signs with a government department. Cleaners. Train operators. McKinsey being paid to write most of the Dhazi review. McKinsey running large chunks of Northern Rock. All of it. Here is the pledge:
A conservative government will publish all government contracts worth over £25,000 for goods and services in full, including all performance indicators, break clauses and penalty measures. This will enable the public to root out wasteful spending and poorly negotiated contracts, and open up the procurement system to more small businesses.
It’s a bit confusing, because this looks like their existing announcement (to publish all government spending lines over £25,000). But it isn’t. It’s new. I can only imagine what the CBI think about this. (UPDATE: see end of post for more on CBI reaction.) It is, if delivered in this spirit, a genuinely radical transparency measure. Imagine the fuss this is going to cause when everyone who didn’t get the contract pores over each detail, and asks difficult questions? Imagine how much easier it is going to be for outside bodies to track public money—think PFI projects—to see if they are on track, and also to use FOI to track progress? Interesting stuff.
2. Cameron’s “Transparency, Accountability, Choice” framework should be taken seriously too. Last night Cameron—again—used this troika to structure his talk. It reminds me of Bill Clinton, who used to always talk about “Responsibility, Opportunity, Community” as his mantra, as perhaps most famously put in his 1996 campaign. I remember being told a story once about the White House staff doing an end-of-year skit at a Christmas party, one part of which was to slightly tease Clinton for always saying this. Clinton, so I was told, took this badly —he saw it not as a slogan, but as…