George Osborne’s public service reform speech (full text here) offered three main themes: Labour are lurching to the left; Blair and the Tories share four key principles on the public services; and where Tories would be different from Blair.
Labour are lurching to the left
"If you watched yesterday’s Newsnight hustings then one thing is abundantly clear: we are seeing Labour lurch to left and abandon the centre ground. I am not talking about John Cruddas. You would expect him to demand higher taxes and more union power. I am talking about the members of the Cabinet and frontbench. Listen to Hilary Benn telling Labour to be ‘unapologetic about our socialist values’. Or Harriet Harman attacking what she calls ‘excessive ridiculous’ City bonuses. Then there’s Peter Hain arguing that ‘we must be clear about the limits of reform’ in public services and even Hazel Blears telling us we need ‘more public ownership’. Alan Johnson, the front runner, is campaigning on a platform of more union power, an end to successful private equity and a limit on the number of new city academies. This, remember, is the Education Secretary. Labour is retreating into its left wing comfort zone – and the Chancellor has said nothing in public to distance himself from it. That is not leadership. Were the rhetoric of the Labour hustings translated into the reality of government policy, our financial services industry would be crippled and our labour market would become more uncompetitive."
Four key principles that the Tories share with Tony Blair
Although there are the shared principles outlined above, George Osborne was clear that the Tories would be different from Labour. Unlike Tony Blair who was captured by the centralising and unionised instincts of his party the Conservatives would devolve real power to professionals and offer "truly meaningful" choice. There would be no limit on the number of Academies, for example, and there would be help for people to start new schools (as long as they are not grammars!). In healthcare personal health budgets would be devolved to the GP and patient together.
"Let me make a prediction. We will be told that instead of ‘choice’ what the public wants is ‘voice’. The public want a say in how their child’s school is run, will go the argument, not a choice between schools. Patients want a place on their local hospital board, we will be told, not a choice between hospitals. So we will hear a great deal about citizen juries, tenants forums, community councils that will give voice to a ‘participatory citizenship’. There is nothing wrong with these mechanisms. But voice is only really meaningful with choice. The power to walk away, to choose an alternative, is what makes your voice heard. Gordon Brown’s plans for public services are like giving citizens of East Germany a greater say in the colour of their Trabant. It’s not a real voice because it is not a real choice."
>>> The TaxPayers’ Alliance concludes that the speech gives the Tories wiggle room on public spending.