Nicky Morgan is a former Education Secretary, and is MP for Loughborough.
I suspect Ronald Reagan’s sayings will be remembered for longer than Donald Trump’s. My favourite Reaganism is: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are – ‘I’m from the Government and I’m here to help’.”
This phrase kept going though my head as I travelled with fellow MPs, peers and others on the Conservative Friends of Israel visit to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem during the half-term recess. Over the years CFI, has taken dozens of MPs and Peers to meet with Israelis and Palestinians, to the West Bank and Gaza border and the Knesset.
The sense that I took away from Israel, helped by that week’s White House press conference between Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, is that the politicians seem no nearer to securing a lasting, peaceful settlement. But another impression I gained from our conversations is that the non-politicians on both sides of the debate now simply want to get on with their lives and their work.
We visited two inspirational charities – Beit Issie Shapiro and Save a Children’s Heart. In both cases, they work with families and children on the basis of need, regardless of their nationality, background or religion. Individuals told us about their working relationships and friendships with people from ‘the other side’.
Beit Issie Shapiro was set up to support and educate children with disabilities and their families. As Jean Judes, its executive director, told us: “Parents of children with disabilities aren’t interested in politics.”
At Save a Children’s Heart, we met a young girl with her father who had left Gaza that day and travelled to the hospital in Tel Aviv for treatment. We met doctors from around the world, including a Palestinian doctor working there, who has to explain to his friends and family why he feels that it is the right place for him to use his skills.
One of the questions which always comes up when hopeful Conservative candidates are putting themselves forward for selection is: “Why are you a Conservative?” Since my first selection meeting in 2000 my answer has always been: “Because I believe in the power of individuals and individual responsibility.” I firmly believe it is people who change their communities and their own lives.
Of course Government can be an enabler. The welfare safety net is an absolute necessity to support people at their most vulnerable. Government can pump-prime projects and encourage individuals to come together for the benefit of themselves and their wider areas. That is the principle behind such policies as neighbourhood planning and schemes like the Big Lottery, for example.
As an MP, I visit local organisations and charities all the time. The people who work and volunteer for them haven’t waited to be asked to tackle a problem or take control. Yes, they sometimes need some support from some part of the state. But, once that support is in place, I would argue that they offer a much better, more individual response, than any arm of the state ever can. This is the fundamental difference in worldview between Conservatives and those on the Left.
All the nonsense spouted about the NHS being privatised completely misses the level of charitable involvement in our health services. In 2015, the King’s Fund estimated that about 10 per cent of NHS spend on health services is on non-NHS providers which includes, yes, some for-profit companies, but also local authorities, social enterprises, charities and community interest companies.
One of the great policies of the Coalition Government, driven by Francis Maude, was to encourage the development of public sector mutuals. Public service mutuals are organisations that have left the public sector but continue delivering public services. Employee control plays a significant role in their operation. Mutuals can be co-operatives or social enterprises. They are free from government control, and help their staff deliver services as they know best by enabling those staff to take charge of providing them, often leading to improvements, and in which they have a personal stake and accept individual responsibility.
In Loughborough, I am involved in a project called the Loughborough Wellbeing Project. It came about following a survey that I did on mental health needs locally. I was contacted by a young constituent who had just left hospital after a spell as patient in our local mental health unit. She was looking for somewhere she could go to meet other young people and adults who could understand what she had been through, in a safe and supportive environment.
With very little funding and thanks to some dedicated volunteers, the LWP café now opens once a month and is attracting more customers and volunteers with plans to open more often. No one asked us to set this up, but a local need was identified and local people responded. There must be hundreds of thousands of similar examples across the UK.
To return to Israel; the point is that the charities we visited and the people in them that we met haven’t waited for the political situation to stabilise nor for peace to break out. Of course they hope that will happen but, in the meantime, they saw that the need for their expertise and services was there, and they responded. I believe we could apply that lesson here by taking our lead from those willing to step up, and trusting people more to resolve situations for themselves, lead service improvements and change things for the better.