The tanks that think

March 28, 1997

Simon Midgley takes the lid off the Fabian Society in the latest in our series on intelligence units

The Fabian Society, which is affiliated to the Labour party, is the oldest socialist society in Britain, dating back to 1884. It has three permanent researchers, but a lot of work. The society has 5,000 members.

General secretary Stephen Twigg, 30, is a former president of the National Union of Students and prospective Labour candidate for Michael Portillo's constituency of Enfield Southgate.

The Fabians' have worked steadily on measures to reposition the Labour party and change its public image.

A series of research reports from 1993 to 1996 examined the party's image with southern voters, finding initially that they thought the party was northern, collectivist and did not care about the individual.

The reports recognised problems such as middle-class employment fears and weak schools in affluent areas.

In the last year a series of health care reports has accepted some internal market reforms, noting benefits from GP fundholding.

Labour remains committed to abolishing both the internal market in the NHS and GP fundholding, but has moderated its stance to accept some of the reforms the Conservatives initiated, including the purchaser/provider split.

The society's Labour in Action has focused on the problems of the first two years of government, including dealing with the House of Lords and the Civil Service and running government departments.

A collection of essays published earlier this month outlines immediately beneficial low-cost measures.

These include changing the way lottery cash is spent, building 24-hour cities, reforming local government, using information technology to service citizens, legal reforms to cut discrimination against various groups and a scheme to get the homeless off the streets.

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