Blair and Brown: ends, means and loopholes
Anatole Kaletsky, always worth reading, launches an Exocet in today’s Times (29 Sept 05) at the socialist belief that health and education are best provided in the public sector and funded out of general taxation, not subject to what some of us see as the largely imaginary benefits of competition and the market (whatever their real benefits in core private sector activities). He credits Tony Blair, in his Brighton Conference speech, with having shed the confusion between ends and means implicit in this belief, defined by Mr Blair as the essence of New Labour, despite Blair’s carefully worded pledges never to allow NHS charges for treatment and never to return to school selection at 11: but he has his doubts about Gordon Brown:
For the Prime Minister there are now almost no taboos about means. He is ready to try whatever it takes to attain his “progressive ambitions”. Health services will increasingly be delivered by private contractors. “I will never allow the NHS to charge for treatment,” he said, but carefully left open the question of privatised treatment providers, or indeed of charges for “hotel services” as opposed to medical treatment, in the NHS. Schools will compete among themselves and seek private sponsors. “I will never return to school selection at 11,” he promised. But was he hinting at the possibility of selection, streaming and setting at 13, 14 or 16, reforms which could offer real hope of achieving the ultimate objective of improving standards of education and behaviour in secondary schools, especially at the lower end of the academic range? For the Chancellor, by contrast, the state control of health and education is still very much a matter of principle. State provision, and above all state financing, of these so-called public services — in reality some of the most personal and private services imaginable — is the remaining bedrock of his socialist beliefs. [My emphasis — BLB]
If Kaletsky is right in this analysis, and especially if he is right in spotting handy loopholes in Blair’s pledges not to impose NHS charges and not to reintroduce schools selection at 11, then in the opinion of this unrepentant socialist, who cares almost as much about means as about ends, the sooner Gordon Brown replaces Tony Blair, the better.