Treasury Place in Melbourne is about
to get a whole lot more interesting with the imminent arrival of Tom
Bentley, the former head of UK think tank Demos, who is to be the new
executive director of policy and cabinet for the Victorian Premier’s
office.

Bentley, still in his 30s, is a pretty extraordinary
bloke; he’s part of the UK intellectual ferment of the early 90s, when
the 1992 defeat of Neil Kinnock convinced sections of the left that the
whole socialist project would have to be rethought from the ground up.
Demos, the think tank founded by former communist and editor of Marxism Today,
Martin Jacques, was where much of this rethinking – the radical centre,
the third way, etc – got done, and Bentley was responsible for many of
its key papers.

The child of a couple of East End radical
Christians, Bentley was too young to have to rid himself of the baggage
of UK 80s Marxist culture, and his way of thinking about what the left
should do is informed by a much more fluid understanding of how power
works and how it can be redistributed. His idea of pub small-talk is to
elaborate a six dimensional model of social action necessary for an
understanding of how crime impacts on low income single mothers – and
that’s in his lighter moods.

His employment by the rep theatre production of Guys and Dolls
that is the Bracks government means either that they want to get
serious about redistributing power, or they want a hood ornament which
makes it look like they are.

Either way, I wonder if Bentley will have much of a chance to make a difference. In a valedictory article for the Guardian,
he gives half a cheer for the Blair government, noting how they
“consumed” radical ideas, and turned them into small and underwhelming
reforms. Since the Bracks government makes Blair’s Britain look like St
Petersburg under the Bolsheviks, I hope that Bentley hasn’t been sold a
pup. Whatever its faults, British Labour still has a place for ideas,
which to Melbourne’s dimwit goombahs means six new ways to sign up 300
recently-arrived Turks to the Corio branch.

We shall watch, as they say, with interest.

Peter Fray

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