Defend our precious public services! All hands to battle stations in defence of our vital public services! Did you know that the 2015 general election is all about our public services?
The endless platitudes about the vital importance of “public services” to all our lives are starting to sound a lot like the ludicrous list of new government-approved slogans and phrases for the North Korean people to shout in praise of their Dear Leader.
Following George Osborne’s 2015 Budget, yet another let-down for small government conservatives and believers in fiscal responsibility, this blog took the Conservative Party to task for failing to extol the virtues of a smaller state and greater personal liberty during the election campaign. And today’s latest motivational email from the Conservative Party only serves to hammer home the extent to which David Cameron’s Conservative Party are on the ideological back foot.
From the latest Conservative Party fundraising email:
Together we can deliver.
A Britain that lives within its means.
Reducing the deficit so we can keep investing in vital public services.
Newsflash, CCHQ: life is not all about public services.
Some of us are actually more interested in how we and our families can best work, learn and prosper in this globalised, interconnected world than wasting time working out precisely what perks we can claim from the British state. Others of us have been left behind, stranded without the tools needed to compete in this new information economy, and are struggling to advance much further than a minimum wage job on a zero-hours contract.
But in neither case will obsessing about public services help the British people to overcome their personal obstacles, or ensure that we succeed as a nation. Decent public services are what Frederick Herzberg might have called a “hygiene factor” – essential things which are liable to cause dissatisfaction if not properly provided. But lay on the best, most extravagant public services anywhere in the world and you still won’t have come anywhere near creating the recipe for individual happiness or economic growth.
This is not to say that public services are not important. Some are very important indeed, and as Fraser Nelson points out in the Telegraph, for example, some aspects of government spending on social issues have been paying real dividends:
The party’s great untold story is its commitment to social justice. The phrase is normally associated with the Left, and Tories are usually mistrusted when they talk about it. But Mr Cameron is now in a strong position to do so, having actually run up a list of solid achievements (albeit ones he never talks about). The marriage tax break, introduced next month, might be treated as something to be proud of, rather than something to be covered up. His government has invested in relationship counselling, and these past five years have seen a marked increase in children living with birth parents.
Nor does anyone mention the work with drug addicts, changing the policy to one that aims for recovery. And with success: of the 78,000 who presented for drug treatment in the first three years of this government, almost 32,000 had not returned for further treatment. There are other such boasts flying about: 2,100 gang members helped back on the straight and narrow thanks to better intervention, some of it through Jobcentres. The figures may not be dazzling, but they show Conservatives are more than a band of well-dressed economic plumbers. The party has a firm social mission, and one it has pursued relentlessly.
The Tory manifesto should proudly boast about school reform and the pupils in deprived areas now settling in to schools that would not have existed had Conservatives not decided to challenge the status quo. Harrow is opening a free school, allowing parents from ordinary backgrounds the kind of choice in education previously preserved to millionaires. This is Conservative radicalism in action, and does not deserve to be treated like a dirty secret.
But the extent to which the public services and “our NHS” crowd out the bigger picture of who we are and what we want to be as a country is starting to have a damaging effect on our national psyche, and our shrinking perception of all that is actually achieveable in this world if only we raise our aspirations a little.
John F. Kennedy called on Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”. The former US president would have been booed off stage if he spoke like that in modern Britain. In 2015 Britain, it’s all about me, me, me. What can the government do for me? What taxpayer funded services is the governement offering me? Why can I not receive them faster, and at a much higher quality? And woe betide our political leaders if trajectory of government largesse goes in anything other than a perpetually upward direction.
Whatever happened to a sense of national destiny, of a shared national purpose higher than a common pastime of griping together that we can’t get enough stuff from the government (much of which complaining actually comes from people with plenty of stuff of their own, but who presume to speak on behalf of those who have less)?
Why can the 2015 general election in Britain not be about competing visions to revolutionise education, making us competitive with international leaders like Finland and South Korea? Why can it not be about becoming the first country in the world to free itself from energy dependence on fossil fuels?
Why is there no pledge from any party to fund hundreds of new tech startups in the hope of incubating a future British Microsoft or Google? Why does no-one propose radical forging of new links between universities and industry, so that Britain can start to monetise new inventions and intellectual property as successfully as the Americans?
In short, how can we ever get excited about politics when we are constantly encouraged to set our aspirations for Britain so desperately low?
Grow new vegetables extensively! Save “our NHS” from Tory cuts. Protect our precious public services.
Can we really not set our ambitions as a country a little higher than making sure that the trains run on time?
Cover Image: Conservative Party fundraising email, 20 March 2015