Wednesday, May 30, 2007 

The dead end of choice.

After 10 years of Blairism, or if you believe Simon Jenkins, who doesn't think that Blair has changed politics enough to have an "ism" named after him, the slighter kinder faced continuation of Thatcherism, the Conservatives have finally worked out how to respond from having the rug pulled from under their feet. They're going to be the new Blairites.

The Conservatives are best placed to carry on Tony Blair's public service reforms, the shadow chancellor says.

George Osborne claimed Gordon Brown, the next prime minister, had "abandoned the centre ground of public service reform to the Conservative Party".

All of which sounds familiar. That might be because this is more or less the exact same argument put forward by Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke, during the launch of 20:20 vision, their disastrous attempt to form an anti-Brown faction that they hoped would flush out a leadership candidate in their own image:

We believe in radical reform. For us reform is for a progressive purpose – to make for a fairer society. We look to policies that empower individual citizens, reward aspiration, spread opportunity, tackle intolerance and inequality, provide security, protect the environment and that are internationalist not isolationist. And we look to a style of politics that is based on dialogue, debate and devolved power.

Take out the bit about being progressive and probably tackling intolerance and inequality, and you pretty much have where the Tory party is under Cameron - few policies, but a lot of buzzwords which mean very little.

The whole sorry mess of Osbourne's speech is up on the Conservatives website, and reading it is like being spoon-fed saccharine by David Cameron himself. The gist of it is that Labour is returning to the left - look at those desperate deputy leadership candidates prostituting themselves and their wacky "socialist" ideas! - that Gordon Brown isn't condemning them for doing so, meaning he's obviously going to hoist the red flag above Downing Street as soon as he gets the chance, and that because Labour is cooling on "choice", they're the responsible, sensible heirs to Blair, and they'll continue his glorious legacy by knocking some reformed sense into our schools and hospitals.

The very reason why Labour has supposedly suddenly "cooled" on choice is because they've finally had it rammed down their throats by the patients that they don't care about it. The Healthcare Commission found through their questionnaires with 448 patients that the three questions concerning choice were among the 10 least important aspects of a hospital's service, out of the 82 it asked about. Osbourne predictably quotes research which says the opposite, from those involved in pilot schemes. This contrasts with the view of Picker institute, which ran the questionnaire study, who told the Healthcare Commission there was no point running similar questions the following year, as there was so little interest. The futility of extending choice even further is undermined by just how demoralised and fed up the NHS staff are with the constant reorganisations and new systems they're constantly having to adjust to - they want stability, not further change for the sake of it, which is exactly what the Blairites and now the Tories want to offer.

Most of all, quite why after 10 years of Blair, when we're finally getting rid of the spinning, lying bastard, the Tories think that aiming to emulate his policies is a good idea seems to suggest how lost they've become by the new political landscape. Blair's apologists often like to claim that he's pulled the political centre to the left, based on the money pumped into the public services; while it's true that he has achieved a consensus on that, on other measures Blair has pushed the "centre" so far to the right, whether through his policies on criminal justice, the re-imposition of the market into the NHS, with independent treatment centres which get their money whether they perform the number of operations set out in the contract or not, PFI schemes which are bleeding the taxpayer dry and city academies which allow the private sector or so called "charitable" organisations, usually church groups, to have control over the ethos and make-up of the school for a bung towards its upkeep, that the Tories haven't much of a clue how much further they can go without totally alienating the average person who claims the centre ground is where they are. As a result, all they offer is a continuation, and the age-old smears that Brown, the architect of PFI, is going to shift us all back to the loony left he's already condemned. If Labour's a party in terminal decline, the Tories seem to be more than happy to follow them into oblivion.

Related post:
Chicken Yoghurt - The bores of perception

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