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July 29, 2005

Proposition Three: The Blatcherite platform in nine points

Posted by Richard D. North

Richard D. North concludes his argument on why he thinks we might have better politics if political parties continue to decline. Here he sets out what the platform of today's honest post-ideological politician might be. The views expressed are those of Richard D. North, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

Proposition Three: The Blatcherite platform in nine points
It is perhaps useful to produce the ultimate "middle road" Blatcherite statement. Here is one, and it's laid out here as a sort of major star of an imaginary political galaxy around which politicians might develop specialities, variations and emphases.

Its essence is that the British are conservative: they like current economic policies, they accept current tax rates, they like the current Welfare State model and they are tolerant but not "liberal". The soft-left liberal consensus of the media and academia is not for them. Politicians, however, are less content with the status quo.

What an Honest Blatcherite might say in nine points
1. No-one knows what the ideal tax-rate is, but we aim over many years to lower it from the current 40 percent of GDP. As a principle, we assert that unfortunate or feckless people will be fewer and less costly when we refuse to assert that they are vastly numerous and need lots of subsidy.

2. It is easier to promote increasing public use of private welfare/services than to begin either with privatising the public services, or quickly abandoning the "free at the point of use" principle. As an ideal political goal, we do think that most people should buy most welfare for themselves (self-funding) from the private sector (private facilities). But we wonder how to combine this with funding the unfortunate and feckless, and maintaining social cohesion. There is no quick way to the right answer, so for now we will continue the Thatcherite and Blairite development of a parallel provision of privately and public-cum-privately financed facilities, and - quite separately - of publicly-funded access to them. Private self-funding of welfare (some publicly-provided) has developed, and that's good. People pay for more of their pensions, higher education, dentistry, and eye-care than they used to, so we're headed in the right direction. There are thriving private and public-cum-private sectors of provision in prison, pension, health and education provision.

3. No-one has ever had much idea what works in the reduction of crime, though nipping it in the bud seems quite successful. We are mildly sceptical that prisons really work, and even more sceptical that we can quickly abandon heavy reliance on them. Drugs policy is a complete mess and we should be legalising them all, beginning quite soon with cannabis.

4. More, good, cheap childcare seems indispensable to "hard-working families", and it ought to be self-funded wherever possible (in publicly-owned facilities by all means). But as a principle we do believe that children benefit from very close, familial care in their early years. People can't easily be taxed or penalised into sharing our view.

5. We believe that nearly everyone in society can be mostly well-behaved and that commonly-understood ideas about being "civilised" ought to be stressed, not as an ideal but as a minimum which may well merit policing, often by uniformed people whether funded publicly or privately. (As an ideal which the state can do rather little to promote, we also believe that society should celebrate public-spirited personal involvement; a widespread culture of literature, music and arts; and public courtesy.)

6. We believe that the political system needs a trusted, skilled and experienced Civil Service to serve ministers in policy-formulation. It is moot whether they need to be institutionally "invisible", as in the old model. Probably they should be able to speak more (especially about their relations with their political masters), but not on political matters.

7. Now class warfare is dead and all the political parties are broadly mainstream, parties should form Ministries of "all the talents". Maybe this logic leads one to PR, but not necessarily. This does not conflict with the idea that parties' platforms and manifestoes naturally seek to be distinct from one another.

8. We want MPs who are intelligent, interesting, honest and experienced. Big parties aren't the only or even the best way of discovering and promoting them. Members of Parliament should be forbidden to influence local government on decisions concerning individuals, except publicly. MPs are needed for their national role in national policy, not as meddling social workers for their constituents.

9. A good Prime Minister in a good government would seldom speak on areas which are more properly the business of one of his or her ministers.

Richard D. North is the author of Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence and of Mr Blair's Messiah Politics: Or what happened when Bambi tried to save the world.

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An interesting series....

(1) Political choice under FPTP suffers from Hotelling's Theorem - all the ice-cream sellers set up their pitch in the middle of the beach, leaving those sunbathing at the edges a long way to walk for refreshment (in political terms, this is as simple an explanation for the reduction in turn-out as any).

(2) I'd be interested in a further piece on the Blatcherite view of the difference between the unfortunate and the feckless...

Posted by: Innocent Abroad at July 30, 2005 01:52 PM
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