Alan Milburn lambasts the Government for diluting the NHS reforms as Cameron uses support from Blair and Blairites "as a protective shield"
By Jonathan Isaby
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This morning's Daily Telegraph features an extraordinary intervention from Alan Milburn, the Blairite former Health Secretary who stepped down from Parliament at last year's general election.
The man who is currently the serving as the Coalition's social mobility tsar attacks the Government from the Right for diluting the reforms to the health service, calling them "the biggest car crash in NHS history".
Accusing Cameron and Clegg of elevating "short-term politics above long-term policy", he writes:
"Everyone knows the NHS cannot stand still in the face of demographic change and medical advance. Reform is a constant necessity. The U-turn slows the pace of reform and dramatically dilutes its impact... It is hard to see how the push for £20 billion of efficiency savings will be realised without radical reconfiguration of how local services are delivered.
"So how will the NHS books be balanced? By the usual device which policy-makers have deployed every decade or so in the NHS. A very large cheque. It is precisely the situation Cameron and George Osborne were trying to avoid: sorry, George, but the cash you were saving in your pre-election Budget for tax cuts will now have to be spent on a bail-out for the health service."
"These changes will reverse hard-fought reforms. For decades, the old-style, monolithic NHS has been giving way to a more devolved and diverse health care system. The reforms I introduced as health secretary to create NHS foundation and primary care trusts started the devolution journey. GP consortiums were supposed to complete it. Instead, the Government’s U-turn places real power in the hands of the national NHS Commissioning Board – the daddy of all quangos."
And he concludes:
"The promise of the Coalition was that it would go where New Labour feared to tread when it came to public service reform. There would be no no-go areas. In fact, Cameron’s retreat has taken his party to a far less reformist and more protectionist position than that adopted by Tony Blair or even his successor, Gordon Brown."
Meanwhile, Steve Richards in today's Independent reminds us how Tony Blair and a variety of Blaritie advisers have been rallying round aspects of the Cameron Government's reforming agenda.
Yesterday's intervention by the former Prime Minister himself aside, there is the former Labour schools minster Lord Adonis, who has backed Michael Gove's education reforms, whilst former health minister Lord Warner has been "putting the case for the Coalition's original NHS changes, conveying more evangelical zeal than Andrew Lansley".
Richards says we should not underestimate the importance for Cameron of such interventions:
"For Cameron, the Blairite glow of approval is like gold dust... The degree to which he cares was demonstrated during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday when Cameron cited Blair three times as being in support of his policies. For a leader of a Conservative Party still not entirely decontaminated, it is a protective shield that is much more robust than that offered by Liberal Democrats. Parts of the Lib Dems oppose Cameron's reform programme with the same sincere conviction that attracts Blair and some of his followers."