Conservative change in Britain
The old Leftist lie that conservatives were simply against all change still has legs even though Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher made it clear by their actions that it was only the simplistic and destructive changes proposed by the Left that conservatives oppose. So it is interesting to see below that Britain's present-day Conservatives also have lots of changes on their agenda
The Tory-led Coalition sees itself in revolutionary terms. Steve Hilton, who is David Cameron’s political guru, is supposed to have declared: ‘Everything must be changed by 2015. Everything.’ An odd thing, perhaps, for an alleged Conservative to have said.
Then there is Nick Boles, the staunchly Cameroon Tory MP for Grantham, who at a conference last week said that David Cameron and Nick Clegg want their ‘people power’ revolution to unleash ‘chaotic’ effects across the community. That sounds like Mao Zedong on a wild night.
During the election campaign Nick Clegg often said that he plans to ‘change Britain for good’, a call to arms he repeated at the Lib Dem party conference in September. I don’t know about you, but there is quite a lot about Britain which I like, and I am by no means sure that Mr Clegg’s transformed version would be preferable.
There is a good deal of this Maoist-type talk. And if you look at the Coalition’s proposals in various areas, there is a lot of frenetic activity of which Mao, as the creator of ‘permanent revolution’, would have warmly approved.
Andrew Lansley is turning the NHS inside out, though in opposition the Tories said another bureaucratic shake-up was the last thing it needed. Michael Gove is trying to create as many ‘free schools’ as possible. Ken Clarke is overhauling the judicial and prison systems. Iain Duncan Smith is embarking on the most sweeping welfare reforms for a generation. Eric Pickles wants to transfer powers from councils which think they know best to local communities.
The sheer speed and multiplicity of these reforms, combined with all the revolutionary rhetoric, has led some commentators to suggest that the Coalition is more radical even than Margaret Thatcher who, for all her zeal, actually proceeded quite cautiously, particularly during her first term of office.
Some people suggest that the theme uniting these bold plans is a smaller State. I doubt whether this is true. When all the cuts announced by the Chancellor have taken effect in 2015 — and this assumes, possibly wrongly, that they will be rigorously applied — government spending as a proportion of gross national product will have merely returned to the levels of 2007. That does not sound like a dramatically smaller State to me.
Others say that localism is another common theme. When Mr Boles enthused about the advantages of chaos he was trying to point out the vices of central planning. We can most of us agree with that. But I remain sceptical as to whether the reforms already announced will substantially shift power to local communities. Will electing police chiefs really have such an effect?