The obliteration of the past by the present has been a striking feature of the provision of public services through the mechanism of constant reform, or even ‘permanent revolution.’ Current government policy towards the provision of public services can be characterized in this way. Indeed the very idea of New Labour was to create a discontinuity with ‘Old’ Labour and an alleged public perception of its electoral unacceptability as a party of tax and spend and statist bureaucracy. As a result the provision of additional resources for public spending has been made conditional on ‘reform’ and ‘modernisation’ and such reform is frequently couched in the language of managerialism (Yeo, 1979; Pollitt, 1993; Clark and Newman, 1997). Any reformist agenda tends to stress the newness and the change it is introducing and be based upon a rejection of the past and this is largely what has happened in offi cial discourse concerning the delivery of public services and welfare. However, paradoxically, another trend in government policy towards voluntarism and the ostensible decentralization of public service delivery in the face of a perceived failure of statist solutions to meet welfare need is leading to a renewed interest in the prewelfare state history of alternative provision including self-help and mutualism (Levitas, 2000; Harris, 2004; Kelly, 2007).