Cameron’s Reforms Have Only Begun

August 18th, 2010 at 10:07 am | 4 Comments |

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Today, David Cameron’s coalition government reached its first 100 days in power. FrumForum is marking the day with an online symposium.  We asked our contributors: can anything “new” in Cameron’s conservatism survive this fiscal crisis?  Click here to read more responses.


I have taken some heat for defending David Cameron and despite the impression many on the British Left have that he is a repeat of the Thatcher era, I still think Cameron has a chance to reform British conservatism and govern from the center.

The one thing that caught my eye about Cameron while following the British elections this year was his remarkable honesty about Britain’s fiscal situation. During one of the three debates with Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg, Cameron said,

We are not just relying on waste. Decisions on public sector pay freezes and raising the retirement age will not be popular but they are the right thing to do.

Later he told an audience member when the question of taxes were brought up,

Obviously with the terrible situation we have with our public finances, … mess left by Gordon and Labour, where out of every 4 pounds the Government spends, one is borrowed – it’s not possible to make great big tax giveaway promises. Even if it would be a lovely thing to do, you can’t do it.

Perhaps it is just because we are so used to American politics that when we watch somebody actually being honest about not throwing out tax cuts to bribe voters and being honest that spending cuts are going to hurt, it seems shocking.

After all, libertarians like Rand Paul in this country, can’t even muster the courage to come out against Medicare spending cuts. Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong supporter of Medicare, my point is if you are going to preach small government, then have the courage to go after the big ticket items like Social Security and Medicare which make up over 50% of the entire federal budget.

While the Tory/Liberal budget this year may seem like bitter medicine, if George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has his numbers correct, by 2014, the UK’s budget deficit will drop from 11% of GDP to 2.1%.  While their austerity budget, the sharpest since World War II, may be a bit much and raise fears among Keynesians that Britain could be on the verge of a double dip recession, the cold hard reality is that no matter who had won the general election this year somebody would have had to tackle in some way, Britain’s structural budget deficit.

If Gordon Brown had followed classic Keynesian thinking and ran a budget surplus during the boom, Britain would have been in a much better situation to run up a deficit during the bust.

On civil liberties, Cameron has been very impressive. One of the first acts of the current government has been to scale back the ever growing surveillance state. The proposed plan by the previous Labour government which had wanted to create a nation ID for all citizens was unceremoniously taken off the agenda by the new government. Likewise, the Cameron government has published a document calling for a democratically elected police and crime commissioner in every region of the UK. Not only is this one of the most radical, decentralizing ideas in decades but it shows that unlike Margret Thatcher who centralized power in the hands of Whitehall, Cameron is looking to decentralize power.

On welfare reform, much like Tony Blair, Cameron has put his trust in reform in the hands of Frank Field MP. Field for decades now has been a voice for reform in welfare and benefits. From his years as head of the Child Poverty Action Group and Low Pay Unit during the 1970s to his appointment as shadow spokesman for health and social security under Neil Kinnock’s leadership of the Labour Party to being chairman of the new social security select committee from 1990 to 1997. And during those years, writing over 30 books, tracts and essays on poverty, exclusion and pensions. Perhaps, very few politicians in the UK are more qualified to address welfare reform.

When Labour won their landslide election in 1997 under Tony Blair, it was thought Frank Field would finally get his chance to really effect change in Britain. Blair appointed Field as Minister of Welfare Reform shortly after assuming office but within a year, Field resigned after facing stonewalling from the Blair government on making any changes Field had recommend and it was rumored his efforts were torpedoed by Gordon Brown (then Chancellor of the Exchequer).

This time Cameron has appointed Field to carry out a Review on Poverty and Life Changes for the new government.

Depending on how Frank Field is treated by this government will show how serious they are about reforming the welfare state to the benefit of everybody: taxpayers and those in need.

When it comes to the National Health Services (NHS), Britian’s national healthcare system, the new government is aiming to cut out some of the top tier bureaucracy. Currently the NHS pays a primary care trust to pay for patients. The new government is proposing is to give money directly to GP’s (General Practitioners) who will be responsible for paying the hospital when referring patients. Also, the new reforms plan on allowing patients to register for a GP of their choice, regardless of where they live, thus adding more choice to the NHS.

Of course time will tell if Cameron will be able to hold together his coalition and at the same time fight off the reactionaries within his own party. Just recently, his Health Minister Anne Milton floated the idea of ending free milk to nurseries for budget reasons. (in the UK, all children under five in approved daycares get 1/3 of a pint of milk free of charge). Cameron immediately squashed any idea of cutting back such a worthwhile program. No doubt, Cameron recalled what that fine Tory Winston Churchill once said, “There is no finer investment for any community then putting milk into babies.” (1943). Holding off the reactionary right calls for eternal vigilance for center right politicans. No doubt something many Republicans should remember this election season as well.  As I pointed out after the British elections on these very pages, the GOP has much to learn from David Cameron.

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • easton

    good article, thanks

  • easton

    one other thing:
    Obviously with the terrible situation we have with our public finances, … mess left by Gordon and Labour, where out of every 4 pounds the Government spends, one is borrowed – it’s not possible to make great big tax giveaway promises. Even if it would be a lovely thing to do, you can’t do it.

    Put this guy in charge of the Republican party!

  • aiter

    “Obviously with the terrible situation we have with our public finances, … mess left by Gordon and Labour, where out of every 4 pounds the Government spends, one is borrowed – it’s not possible to make great big tax giveaway promises. Even if it would be a lovely thing to do, you can’t do it.

    Put this guy in charge of the Republican party!”

    Pardon me. While I do agree with your view that perhaps tax reductions should be put onhold in favor of debt repayment, calling not taking as much money from someone a givaway to them implies that you are entitled to their money. Just semantics.

    I also agree that Cameron has alot more work to do.

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100046333/even-after-the-spending-cuts-government-expenditure-will-be-close-to-its-all-time-peak/

  • Carney

    Decentralization is a bad idea in the UK. The country as a whole skews left and needs a firm hand from London. Giving mini-parliaments to the Celtic Fringe has given new credibility not only to unreconstructed socialists, but also to UK-splitting secessionists. Look at the extreme-left nut Ken Livingston, who was Mayor of London for a long time. And now, with rapidly growing non-British areas, that are, shall we say, unenthusiastic about law enforcement and counter-terrorism, handing over police comissioner jobs to local electorates is a horrible idea.