The Big Picture: We’ve got a story to tell

The publishing sensation of the year! No, I’m not talking about the release of the last of the Harry Potter books on Saturday but the other equally difficult- to-get-hold-of read of the moment.

For some, especially in the Westminster village, the real publishing sensation has been the Alastair Campbell Diaries. Politicians and political journalists will all have dashed out on “Campbell day” and rushed to the index to see if they are covered in book.

And that is what the index is a list of names. Try to look up “social services”, “public services”, “welfare” or anything else which might relate to what we do and disappointment looms large. This feeling of neglect continues throughout the book.

But if, and this is likely to be so for all of us within social care, we are interested in people as well as policy, there’s plenty in this book to keep us intrigued.

The book is full of tabloid tittle tattle and reads like a script from a soap opera, which is why many will find it riveting. It’s like Big Brother without the house.

The first message for social care I gleaned from the book concerns teamwork, and there are plenty of examples about how dysfunctional Blair’s cabinet was on this front. Personal pride and profile, and political position and power, dominates throughout the diary.

The moral from this tale is that a good team does not consist of a bunch of competitive prima donnas fighting each other for space and profile. Team leaders need to ensure that people are brought together, hostile and competitive behaviour is challenged, and there’s agreement on what is trying to be achieved and how to get there.

And this is the second lesson I picked up. The importance of having a shared vision and being able to describe this to others with coherence and commitment.

In the early days of his leadership Blair commented about Conservative prime minister John Major’s government that “they had a story to tell, and we didn’t They had simple stories to tell, access to the media, and it was hurting us”. New Labour in government, of course, became a lot better at this.

So what’s the message for us in social care? We should not underestimate the importance of having stories to tell about our work and the successes we have achieved, and having the means to tell them through the media and within our communities.

Ray Jones was social services director at Wiltshire from 1992-2006 and is a former chair of the British Association of Social Workers

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