Blair and Howard on the same hymn sheet

In the autumn of 2002, Tony Blair, in a speech to party conference,
called for the break-up of the “monolithic” delivery of health care
and education in favour of a new diversified mix of public and
private sector provision. “Out goes the big state, in comes the
enabling state.” We now have private finance initiatives in
abundance – but while private profits have soared, is the state now
more “enabling”?

Last week, Michael Howard, offered a Conservative vision which, in
many respects, isn’t far away from the Blairite formula. Howard
might have become nicer to gay people but he remains wedded to the
traditional Tory goals of low taxes and less “interference”. Again,
breaking up the monolithic state, this time to “enable” individuals
to spend their own money as they choose. Health secretary John Reid
responded: “When Michael Howard talks about reform of public
services he means Tory cuts, charges and privatisation.” All of
which is a bit rich, since, if New Labour isn’t travelling fast
towards the route marked “cuts, charges and privatisation” – where
exactly is it heading? Taxes help to create a more equitable
society. Research tells us that the narrower the gap between rich
and poor, the more productive and harmonious the country. Howard
argues that the “moral reason” for cuts is because people assume
their obligations to society are discharged simply by handing over
money. Low taxes, he says, allow freedom to make decisions.

In the US and South Africa, we’ve seen what that those “decisions”
mean. The wealthy retreat into ghettos of affluence, spending money
on their own private health, schooling and infrastructure,
protected by armed guards while the rest of the community goes to
hell. Last week, we had further evidence of the effectiveness of
Blair’s “enabling state” as it affects those with the least
political muscle. The Children’s Fund – an important element in the
“war on poverty” – faces astronomic cuts, up to 45 per cent, over
the next two years. Those affected include young carers, schemes
tackling persistent truancy and children’s counselling.
Administrative cock-up by the former Children and Young People’s
Unit – or money shamelessly being siphoned away – the result is the

Howard wants a return to a welfare state haphazardly financed by
paternalistic charity handouts. Blair seeks a modest social
revolution, so long as the middle class voter doesn’t have to pay
the bill. Neither is offering an inclusive vision. Both,
shamefully, are looking after their own.

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