By Harry Phibbs
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There was an excellent piece (£) in The Times this morning by the former Labour health secretary Alan Milburn. It concerned the scandal of poor care at Stafford Hospital.
Mr Milburn said:
The problem at Stafford, as at Bristol, was not a lack of regulation but a lack of transparency. Some staff at both hospitals knew what was happening, but few spoke out. Patients’ families had their suspicions, but they could not penetrate a veil of secrecy. Buried in the mass of data about both hospitals were some uncomfortable truths about their performance, but they were hard to unearth.
Reforms introduced by Labour and followed up by the coalition to create patient choice, competition and transparency have made the care system more open. The NHS is the only system in the world, for example, that routinely publishes comparative clinical outcomes for all hospitals. But it is not yet open enough. Whether it’s maternity services at the beginning of life or residential care homes at the end, patients and their carers still find it too difficult to get a clear sense of what is a good service and what is not.
Health is not the only issue upon which Mr Milburn has renounced collectivist thinking. He also favours education vouchers and a right to buy for housing association tenants. He believes the state should be smaller. I have written before that his views would make him better suited to the Conservative Party than to Labour.
He is not alone among Labour politicians. The Labour MP Gisela Stuart wrote the Foreword to a recent Institute of Economic Affairs monograph on poverty by Kristian Niemietz.
The paper calls for "a market-orientated anti-poverty policy." Lowering housing costs through planning liberalisation. Lower food prices by leaving the Common Agricultural Policy. Lower energy bills by ending "incoherent environmental policies." Lowering unemployment by liberalising employment protection rules and cutting marginal tax rates. Lowering childcare costs through deregulation.
Some Labour MPs would recoil in horror at such an agenda. Mrs Stuart does not.
If increasing benefits doesn’t deal with poverty, what does? The book makes a strong case for a radical, market-oriented approach. Make those things needed for basic living more affordable by reducing their overall price. While this will help everyone, it will help the poor disproportionally more. But do we not need to protect the poor from the ravages of the market? Or can we harness the power of the market by challenging vested interests and monopolies?
At the root of post-war German success was the introduction of the social market economy championed by Ludwig Erhard. He wanted the German people to have as much economic freedom as possible, as this would lead to a fair and adequate distribution of the country’s resources, while still providing for the poorest. Despite expressed fears that this would make the poor poorer and the rich richer, he persisted. When Germany ended rationing (six years ahead of the UK) it set prices free, encouraged initiative and revived the economy. Erhard understood that government control could not work: government could never know enough to adequately allocate resources to deliver prosperity to everyone. Only the market could distribute wealth justly.
As Erhard said: ‘Need would be overcome through growth. Inequality would become irrelevant through growth. The market, because it provided people’s needs, because it raised their standard of living, was social.’
Mrs Stuart concludes:
The author, Kristian Niemietz, provides a great service by dismantling the arguments of the poverty campaigners; challenging the politicians; and making a strong case for a market oriented anti-poverty strategy that will encourage work and raise redefining the povert y debate real incomes. This is an important publication that deserves wide attention.
Of course Mrs Stuart's Euroscepticism is already well known. Doesn't her appreciation that the market is the most effective way to fight poverty confirm that she should join the Conservatives?
Who else should join us?
- Kate Hoey. The Labour MP for Vauxhall. She is Chairman of the Countryside Alliance. A staunch Eurosceptic. A supporter of free schools. A member of Boris Johnson's administration. In 2009 she said she "would not be devastated" if the Conservatives won the election.
- Tom Harris. Labour MP for Glasgow South. A critic of political correctness and tax increases. A supporter of an in/out referendum on the EU. His views on electoral reform are succinct. Disappointing that his blog has been closed down.
- Frank Field. The Labour MP for Birkenhead. A strong advocate of welfare reform and a strong Eurosceptic. A friend of Baroness Thatcher. A member of the Reform think tank advisory board and Standpoint Magazine's editorial board.
- Lord Adonis. His fascinating book Education, Education, Education shows all to clearly what a struggle he found advancing reforms to promote school choice and independence under the Labour Government.
- Sir Robin Wales. The directly elected Labour Mayor of Newham wants a lower ratio of social housing and supports spending transparency.
- Tristram Hunt. Labour MP for Stoke. He wrote in the Purple Book: "There is nothing progressive about running a large budget deficit or wasting money on interest repayments that could be invested in schools, hospitals or Sure Start centres. This is the crucial insight
the electorate has already realised and until we move beyond the ‘why’ and ‘who’ arguments about deficit reduction, and articulate with more clarity the ‘how’, we will not regain our voice."
- Caroline Flint. Labour MP for Don Valley. A great supporter of aspiration and home ownership. In her Purple Book contribution she declared: "The desire to be close to family, invest, improve, move to the nice neighbourhoods, leave something behind for the next generation or just have a few square metres to call your own – conservatory and all – is instinctive, and the drive to own is unshakeable." Surely she must see that the Conservatives are the ones backing more conservatories?
- Phil Wilson. Labour MP for Sedgefield. Firm supporter of the right to buy. "I do not know a single Labour councillor in Sedgefield who lived in a council house and did not buy it," he
- Baroness King. She has fought bravely against George Galloway and Ken Livingstone. She has opposed the way ethnic matching thwarts adoption – an issue Labour failed to tackle but which Michael Gove is dealing with.
- Jim Fitzpatrick. Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse. A supporter of free schools. Also an in/out EU referendum. A strong opponent of Ken Livingstone.
Will they join the Conservatives? There is inevitably a bit more to it than policy or ideology. It is also about sentiment. There are loyalties to their comrades. Career considerations. Yet I wonder if all of them really believe that our country would be better off under a Labour Government.