Wednesday, 21 November 2007

More Courage of Nick Clegg

I have to revise yesterday's comments about Clegg not saying as much as I'd like about his attitude to public services. In an interview with 5 prizewinning Liberal Democrat Bloggers (Alex Wilcock, James Graham etc), Clegg was clear and established consistency with past statements. He's in favour of choice in public services, particularly schools and health. he sees them as being funded by general taxation. In health he wants patients to 'own' a financial pot which can be transferred between providers, on schools he wants choice and he wants poor families to bring money with to any school their children attend. He clearly excluded health insurance and educational vouchers. This is consistent with previous pronouncements though those did leave the door open for what he has now excluded. His early speeches in the campaign did not exclude these possibilities either. Still given the necessary flexibility of anyone with a political career this is a consistent record. Clegg may or may not be pondering more radical market orientated measures, if he is he can floatr them later and wait for the reaction. He cannot force them on the party which does decide policy at conference after a consultative process.

I would prefer to see private insurance funds coming into health, with the government paying premiums for the poorest and everyone obliged to have insurance on a drivers' insurance model. Where services are provided by a public body it is reasonable to charge for morfe routine purposes, exempting hose on state benefits. Everyone knows that General Practioners (geenral service doctors in Britain) have a lot of people coming to 'surgeries' (open time) who do not have a problem or not one the GP can address. Education 'vouchers' are good if what that means is that parents choose between a multitude of publicly funded providers. That meaning has been given to vouchers, though I would have thought strictly speaking it could only apply to government issued vouchers which can be redeemed against fees at private schools.

Clegg is not running on the measures I favour but his committment to choice is important and does take some courage at this point. There are a lot of public sector professionals in the party who may be inclined to stick to a point of view based on producer monopoloy. This is referred to as 'universal service' and is supposed to be egalitarean. In reality it means inefficient services which disproportionately benefit the middle classes. Witness east London, a low income area where Medecin sans frontieres has moved in because National Health Service provision is so useless for local working class people. That is adter 10 years of increased spending on health and higher salaries for public sector workers, on top of a pension regime much more favourable than what most get in the private sector.

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