Peter Hoskin

The Tories need to push the fiscal case for public service reform

The Tories need to push the fiscal case for public service reform
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Andrew Haldenby's article in the Telegraph this morning got me thinking: when was the last time the Tories really pushed the fiscal case for public service reform; that the government can indeed deliver better services while spending less money? By my count, you'd have to go back around six months to George Osborne's speech on progressive politics at Demos. There, the shadow chancellor said this kind of thing:

"Indeed, I would argue that our commitment to fiscal responsibility in the face of mounting national debt is not at odds with progressive politics, but fundamentally aligned to it - as politicians on the left from Bill Clinton to former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien once understood.

For there is nothing progressive about out-of-control spending that the poorest end up having to pay for, and nothing fair about huge national debts that future generations are left having to pay for.

And it is that fiscal responsibility allied to a passionate belief in public service reform - particularly in education - which is the only progressive route out of this debt crisis." Sure, there have been little nods to "more for less" since, as well as mention of some specific reforms. But it's really only in Osborne's speech that the Tories have majored on the fiscal angle and sounded anything like evangelical about it all.  

What's behind it?  Well, maybe it's because the Tories are wary that some reforms will come with extra short-term costs attached. Maybe it's because the message sounds discordant against their "cash = care" approach to the NHS. Or maybe it's a simple failure to recognise Alastair Campbell's lesson about the benefits of repetition.  

Either way, it's still pretty astonishing that, with cuts dominating the pre-election chatter, the Tories aren't repeating those Osborne points more frequently.