Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Not a clean enough sheet

In the aftermath of the Liberal Democrats' disappointing election result, Charles Kennedy declared:

We must also, I believe, adopt a 'clean sheet' approach to policy, so that, at the start of every new parliament, we are forced to look afresh at all our policy to ensure that it is relevant.

Unfortunately the sheet still has a few stains, judging by Kennedy's response to the Queen's Speech yesterday:

We are all for diversity in the provision of quality public services. However, what most of us realised during the campaign is that real choice means people knowing that they can receive for themselves and their families at the point of need - and based on need, not ability to pay - quality local provision, whether it be at the school, the hospital or whatever. That is preferable to the false idea of having massive choice, which really involves travel, complexity and all the rest of it, and it is certainly the approach that we shall continue to advocate.
No, choice is one thing and quality is a different thing. You do not turn quality into choice by calling it "real choice".

The question is whether you will even get quality if you force people to accept whatever is provided locally, no matter how bad it is. I do not think you will, which is why I am a Liberal and not a Socialist. I also believe that people have very different beliefs, needs and wishes, and that public services have to recognise this if they are to remain politically and economically viable.

The anti-choice position is rooted in an outdated view of a passive, homogeneous populace which will accept whatever is put before it with a shrug and a "mustn't grumble". For better or worse - and readers of this blog will know that I am more susceptible to nostalgia than most - that world has gone.

Still, Michael Meacher would agree with Charles:

What people want locally is consistent high quality, not choice that leads some hospitals and schools to be oversubscribed while others sink for lack of demand.

If schools and hospitals lack demand, could it be that they are not very good? And if they are not very good, why should people be forced to use them? And if they are forced to use them, why should they vote for you?

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