Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hobson's Choice

It's a sign of the times in British politics that the arguments are no longer about whose ideas are best, but about who is best at implementing the one idea there is. As George Osborne takes being a "shadow" chancellor to a whole new level - by being the merest shadow of a chancellor - and tells us that Cameron's Tory party are the real heirs to Blair.

Apparently, it's all about public service "reform". Yeah, right. How many times have we heard that over the last 30 years. Public sector reform moves at roughly the same pace as EU CAP reform - in other words, it doesn't. It just swallows more and more money.

The Tories would like us to think that they have this big idea about offering "choice" - although providing choice doesn't seem to extend to schools unless you're wealthy enough to be able to afford private education for your kids. I'm not sure quite what they mean about providing choice. I'm not bothered whether my bin is emptied by council workers or a sub-contractor - I just wanted it emptied at least once a week without any fuss and bother and without some busybody telling me what I can and can not throw in my bin.

The same thing applies to hospitals. OK, given the choice, I'd prefer it if all the nurses looked and dressed like the Hill's Angels on the Benny Hill Show - but as long as they and the doctors are highly competent, the treatment fast and effective and the hospital clean enough so I won't end up with some life-threatening flesh eating disease instead of an ingrowing toenail I'm not really that bothered about having a choice.

When it comes to public services, we don't really want "choice". We want certain essential public services that are efficient and do the job they are supposed to do. We want our streets kept clean - not strewn with litter from fly-tipped rubbish, we want our streets safe - not places given over to wandering gangs of hooded youth, we want our schools to educate - not indoctrinate, we want our hospitals to heal the sick - not leave them suffering worse than when they went in.

The only real choice we want from public services is a choice of government - but as they all appear to be offering exactly the same thing, that seems to be one area where choice is severely limited.

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