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All very well, but there still remains the problem of liberty v. Europe. If the modernisers, with whom I largely agree, decide in their infinite wisdom (NOT) to attach their 'compassionate conservatism' agenda to pro european policies (anti-liberty)then they might as well pack it in now and disband.Apart from anything else, UKIP will eat us at the next GE.

Simon C

Good to see that Gary Streeter & Nick Gibb are avid ConservativeHome browsers - their joint approach is evidence of "Soho" and "Easterhouse" modernisers coming together - just as the 44% Manifesto suggested!

Nick, Gary and John Bercow have all been off the front bench for a while, & haven't had to defend tight majorities. They have had plenty of time to do some deep-rooted thinking on the Conservative approach to public services, and it would be good to see this bearing fruit. The sentiments in their articles now need to be fleshed out significantly.

Sure, many people will be reliant on state services for the foreseeable future. The issue is, how to improve the quality of those services, and gurantee access to good quality services for everybody?

The intellectual running on public services in the last Parliament was made almost entirely by the think-tank Reform - its website is well worth a lengthy look.

No time for more now.


The European question is the "elephant in the room" for the Conservatives. They will continue to ignore it and will continue to lose elections while they do


A quick look at the political map of London shows how Conservative electoral success was confined to those western and south-western constituencies favoured by long-established, upper-middle class families. The Tories have become the “hands off my stash” party, defending the interests of the comfortable while the aspirational elements of the population go elsewhere. Indeed, the election’s immigration campaign pursued exactly this agenda but within a different section of the population – a “hands off my stash” message aimed at the perceived threat from foreign immigrants to the working class’s stash.

How did this happen to a party that used to be the natural home of the aspirational? I would suggest that post-Thatcherism, the importance of personal aspiration has been accepted across the political spectrum, and that with this argument won the aspirational battleground is about aspiring a better country and a better world rather than purely about higher personal income (though that continues to be important, of course).

Blair’s New Labour has been tremendously successful in capturing the mood of aspiration for a better country (and a better world – hence all the focus on Africa) while positioning themselves as posing no threat to the ability to pursue personal aspirations that was established by Thatcherism. The irony is that while the Conservatives have tried unsuccessfully to persuade the electorate that Labour poses a threat to the latter, the real failure of Labour is with relation to the former – they have managed to look good, but in practice social mobility has decreased and a centralised target-driven approach to improvement in public services is not working.

Conservatives need to recapture the aspirational high ground by focusing on a genuine platform for a better country and a better world. A real redistribution, but of opportunity rather than just wealth; a message that improvement can only be generated by hard work and by taking risks; and above all, an uncompromising message that central planning simply doesn’t work.

Competition is the best way to make a better world – an thought that I suspect has never even crossed the minds of the majority of voters who would probably laugh at the suggestion that those who promote competition even have any interest in making a better world. That’s either a shocking result of pandering to established interest groups, or a shocking failure to communicate – and until conservatives can tell this story loudly, credibly and with real conviction those who hope for a better Britain and a better world will continue to back parties and policies whose effects are tragically quite the opposite.

Michael McGowan

Am I missing something here? It is quite true that Reform has been making all the running for years in terms of putting forward ambitious and attractive ideas for reforming the public sector without sacrificing high-quality universal provision. Its web page is stuffed full of excellent suggestions and one of its leading lights, Nick Herbert, is now MP for Arundel. However, the ideas favoured by Reform are most definitely NOT those favoured by Messrs Gibb, Bercow and Streeter, who seem to think that all that the dysfunctional monoliths of the NHS and comprehensive education require is more tax, tinkering and targets. In a Spectator article a couple of years ago, Nick Herbert roundly condemned the luddite tendencies of the Tory "modernisers" on taxation, spending and public sector reform. I have seen nothing to suggest that their views have changed much.

Peter Littleton

The previous comment contains an important observation. The election the Conservatives have just fought was right for this election. Michael Howard only had 18 months to prepare for the election, and he needed a strategy to secure the future of the Party, which he did.

We now have 4/5 years to build a Conservative vision for Britain. This must be social justice through social mobility. We must focus the agenda of creating opportunities for everyone, and contrast this with the cloaked, New Labour socialist agenda of rewarding those who have squandered their opportunities. This is what Gordon Brown has achieved through his monolithic benefits system.

We need a 'big idea' that covers all fields of policy. And it is crucial that we choose a new leader who can unite ALL Conservatives behind, and then sell it to the public.

Simon C

I don't Michael McGovan missed anything in particular.

The point I was trying to make is that Reform has made the running on public service reform, & that "modernisers" (not sure how helpful a term this is going to be in the party's debate about direction - everyone will lay some claim to it), if they are presenting alternatives to Reform's proposals (they may not) will need to demonstrate the same depth of thought and analysis.

With respect to Nick & Gary (both of whom I count as friends), their analysis on health reform simply came to a call for "more modern management" with managers accountable to a whizzy new cadre of chief execs. That could come straight out of the New Labour lexicon. Hence my call to flesh the article out so that we can see the fruits of the time they have had to spend on thinking about this.

True accountability comes when money follows a user of services, either because of private funding, a state-funded voucher, or some other mechanism. It also provides a way out for people who could not otherwise afford it - if they can take the money with them, they can go to any provider available.

You cannot separate an agenda of improving public services from detailed consideration of the way in which those services are commissioned and provided - and that must include service providers. As Liam Fox said yesterday at Politeia, the state should provide an enabling framework - it should not seek to be a monopoly supplier.

I work for a charity involved in palliative care, where services are provided by the voluntary sector (hospices), the public sector (the NHS & local authorities), and the private sector (eg Care Homes). Helping those sectors work together to meet patient's needs can be done, but is not straighforward. We should be under no illusion about what multi-sector provision will mean - essential though it is.

Patient choice is at the heart of palliative care. In order to enhance that choice, eg so that more people can die at home if they want to, rather than in hospital - more resources are needed, so that choices can be realistically exercised, and then met. A significant proportion of those resources will need to come from the state - but not all of them. And the state certainly won't provide all the services that the resources support. Demographics alone mean that we won't be able to fund the necessary workforce through taxation on a sustainable basis.

Labour is already going down the choice route. Its green paper on adult social care before the election floated the idea of personalised budgets for social care - a patient's needs could be assessed & an appropriate budget allocated. It would then be up to the patient to decide how best to spend that budget - eg on a respite break for him or herself and a carer or a new gadget.

Choice is with us, and as conservatives we should embrace it.

By the way - we already have a top-up voucher scheme working in education. My children's nursery fees are part-funded through the county council, and we can top them up to pay for more time. The principle has been conceded.

Simon C

Sadly, John Bercow's article was light on what he means by public service reform as well. He caricatured the conservative approach as merely offering a subsidy to enable the minority to escape failing public services, leaving the rest behind, and derided policy based on localism.

Yes, we need to make sure that our reforms would benefit everyone - not just well-connected and educated members of the middle-class who know how to work the system, or who can buy their way out. Breaking the state monopoly on service provision, and ensuring that money genuinely follows the user, are the only tools that can achieve that.

Bringing services under accountable local control is vital - although that might require a significant shift from central to local taxation. Are we ready for that?

As per previous postings, we need to think long, hard and in detail about how reform would work in practice.

Bercow's only positive idea on public service reform was to suggest that prospective leaders should actually use the NHS & state schools. Granted, some might find that radical. But this is pretty thin gruel - where's the meat?

By the by - only one of the likely potential leadership candidates has demonstrated a personal commitment to providing high-quality public services by actually working in them - in this case the NHS - before entering politics. That would be Liam Fox.

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The European question is the "elephant in the room" for the Conservatives. They will continue to ignore it and will continue to lose elections while they do

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