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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Peter Fray
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