Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Conservatism: Not Like What It Used To Be

Philip Pullman has a funny piece in today's Guardian,
outlining some genuinely conservative ideas that the Tories might adapt (though I doubt he's holding his breath!). So, for instance, he tells us that's a conservative idea that provision of such things as healthcare and education should not be the subject of trading in the marketplace. The old-fashioned idea here is that looking after the sick and educating the young are matters of charity, not of business: you do them because they are good things to do, not because you can see profits to be made.

So the whole private finance initiative fandango, the hospitals where superbugs run wild because the cleaning is contracted out to private firms, and where a nurse can say to a cleaner that the bathroom hasn't been cleaned properly and it should be done again, and then the cleaner's boss comes along and says that if she wants to clean it to that standard she can do it in her own time - that would all go. A truly conservative party would advocate something truly universal and truly decent. You could call it a national health service.
And so on.

It's not precisely cogent argumentation, but Pullman is raising an important issue that has been around for a while. That is, that much of contemporary British conservatism is, well, not very conservative. An attachment to market, without much in the way of regard for the suitability of markets for certain activities or the effects of market forces on the less well off (who happen, for the most part, to be the children of the less well off too) involves a degree of disengagement that genuine conservatives could not have condoned.

And as for the idea of a flat-tax: it may get Schroeder re-elected in Germany. Besides that, I can't believe any sane politician could flirt with it as a viable electoral winner. By which I mean, too many people will either see public services or their wages fall as a result of its introduction whilst simultaneously knowing that they're paying the same tax rate as the Queen. See Will Hutton's demolition of it in last Sunday's Observer.

Although I disagree with old-style conservatism, what a pity that it, with its sense of obligation towards all people, has disappeared.

Update: In his own witty fashion, Frank McGahon attempts his own demolition job on myself here and Hutton here. Once you get past the idea that one has to be on a narcotic high to disagree with a libertarian, Frank is pretty much as good as it gets when it comes to defending the various positions in favour of markets and flat taxes etc.

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