Danny Kruger’s little book ’On Fraternity’ was an attempt to define the Cameron credo. It placed the ’New Conservative’ blend of social responsibility and decentralisation within a wider Tory tradition. Today the author has a spirited piece in the Financial Times, defending the coalition’s frenzied approach to instigating reform.
All across government ministers are engaged in the type of ’grand schemes’ which Conservatives are generally thought to regard with scepticism. Kruger’s argument is that their motivation is to restore rather than to build anew. To a degree he probably has a point. At Slugger Mick agrees that ’good old fashioned Tory values’ rather than ’neo-Whiggism’ is the order of the day.
Vince Cable, whose candour with reporters posing as constituents has the government rocking this morning, prefers to use the term ’Maoist’. That’s hardly a recommendation, even taking into consideration Cable’s socialist past.
Some Tory cabinet members flatly contradict Kruger’s contention that the new government’s ambitions are of a different order to those of the young Tony Blair. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, is one of Cameron’s inner circle who has intimated that modernising Conservatives aspire to complete Blair’s still-born revolution of public services.
Gove’s ’free schools’ plan is certainly ambitious beyond the point of restoration. There is a hint of the utopian about a scheme which the public has greeted, for the most part, with indifference or downright cynicism.
Andrew Lansley’s intentions for the NHS, too, are sweeping. Prior to the election the Conservatives promised to eschew major reorganisations of the health service. Instead Lansley has instigated what some experts are calling the biggest shake-up in NHS history.
Again the instinct is complemented by the decentralising philosophy articulated by people like Kruger. It envisages handing over responsibility - showing faith that, should people be given the freedom to get on with doing what they do best, their work will be competent,efficient and unimpeded by bureaucracy.
It’s a good general principle, but in league with a free market core of ’yellow book’ liberals, the Tory part of the government is pursuing it with too much ideological fervour. Across the ministries there is fevered activity. This rush of ’new radicalism’ seems to me, at root, to be a little ’un-conservative’.
I appreciate that the consensus is that Tony Blair wasted his first term in office. I also appreciate that public service reform is needed and that the economic situation requires decisive government and swift action. The coalition’s welfare plans, its desire to drive down the deficit and its ambition to reverse excessive centralisation are all laudable, nay unimpeachable.
Still, some of the grand projects across some of the ministries do look a little like change for change’s sake. It’s not the Conservative instinct to do things just to be seen to do them. A slower and steadier approach across some areas of government is necessary.
Vince Cable's flapping tongue has got the coalition into needless trouble, but in one regard he's right. It's all very well Conservatives being suspicious of ideology, but they need to start at home and be a little sceptical of their own dogma.