Dylan Jones’ new book Cameron on Cameron is a series of interviews with the Conservative leader. Previous ToryDiaries focused on highlights discussing the economy and taxation, other politicians and foreign policy. Below are some highlights of Cameron’s responses relating to public services and the environment.
Grammar schools: "Grammar schools are good schools. There are 164 of them and they have nothing to fear from a Conservative government… The fact is you won’t get the change we need if the limit of your ambitions is a few more grammar schools here and there – which, by the way, isn’t going to happen anyway, as no one has set any up, even during eighteen years of Conservative government. If you’re serious about giving every child in our country the opportunity they deserve, you’ve got to think way, way bigger than grammar schools. You’ve got to be prepared to completely transform our education system, so that you don’t just allow those failing schools to continue. You’ve got to be as radical in school reform as Mrs Thatcher was, for example, in trade union reform."
Selection: "We think the evidence shows that it’s good for kids to be taught at the right level for their ability, and have streaming for better results, so that’s definitely something we want to encourage. But we don’t think selection between schools is the way forward. What you really need is parents choosing schools, not schools choosing pupils. If you look across the world, where school reform has worked best is in places like Sweden and the chartered schools in America."
Supply-side education reforms: “I suppose one of my formative influences was going to see the Tabernacle School in Notting Hill, which was a school set up by frustrated teachers and parents because they were so hacked off with low standards and poor discipline at state schools, particularly with young black boys. And they showed me what could be done if you set up a school from scratch by yourself. The tragedy is that the school had to be in the private sector. But why? Why couldn’t it be in the state sector?”
Teaching methods: “I do have a very traditional view of education. I really feel you have to get the basics in place… I’m very much a traditionalist when it comes to teaching methods – testing, examining.”
Tories and the NHS: "There are one or two important things I want to get straight in the Conservative Party, and one is, when it comes to the health service, we’re about improving it for everybody. We’re not about trying to find ways to help people opt out of the health service with tax breaks and private medical care. It’s really important to get this across to people. The NHS should be for everyone."
NHS reform under Labour: “There have been endless, top-down structural upheavals just wasting time and money and the goodwill of NHS staff… Sometimes I think this Labour government is just run by management consultants. They haven’t got a clue about what really matters; they just think about what looks efficient on a PowerPoint chart.”
NHS targets: “Look if you’re running any organisation like a hospital you need to have some ways to measure progress and to motivate your staff. I think what’s wrong is the idea of targets handed down from Whitehall for the whole of the NHS … What we’ve said is that we need to measure the results, not the processes, and so we’re going to get rid of top-down process targets and instead focus on what really matters, which is, are people getting better, are they getting high-quality treatment?”
Solving the health crisis: “In one sense it will never be solved because in any developed country the demand for more health care will exceed the supply… But I think we could do a lot better than we are today.”
The politics of the environment: "John McCain said to me, and I completely agree with him, that we’ve got to get the argument about the environment exactly right. We’ve got to tell people it’s not about wearing a jersey and sitting in the dark with the lights off shivering… [Britain] needs high-speed rail to replace short-haul flights, it means integrating much better with trains and planes and automobiles, as it were."
Taxes on flying: "We do need to have smart taxation rather than dim taxation and that means taxing flights rather than passengers… It’s not about saying to people you can’t fly or you can’t go on holiday, it’s about saying that as a society we need to pay the full cost of pollution."