Labour and the Conservatives are both competing for roughly the same policies. Both want to be the party of society – which they both view as something separate to the state. Both want to free up institutions from centralised government and allow local management and competition to push public services to achieve higher standards.
In education, for example, this means that both are in favour of allowing more local power in governing schools. Labour hark back to their co-operative roots, whereas the Tories link it to their ideas of individualism and small government. Both parties are roughly trying to do the same thing.
Today in his Pre-Budget Report, the Chancellor will cut public spending on many areas but ringfence health and education – just as the Tories want to. The FT has an interesting piece of analysis on the PBR stating that “the relationship between the individual and the state will need to be radically redefined as the next government cuts billions of pounds from local authority spending”.
This is exactly what David Cameron called for in his speech to the Tory party conference a few months ago. But Labour would also suggest that it fits in with their New Labour ideology. It doesn’t, however, fit in with Gordon Brown’s management of the purse-strings as Chancellor – take his reported tempering of Blair’s plans on foundation hospitals for example.
The question is, has David Cameron shifted the “centre- ground” for which both parties are competiting to be a part, or has he aped Blair’s own ideas of mixing the market with the state? Is he the heir to Blair or something more? That all depends, I suspect, on which party you support.