Monday, 12 October 2009

The Private Sector: An Unhealthy Obsession.

In his speech to party conference, David Cameron was keen to identify himself with a "compassionate" one-nation Conservative vision for Britain. Unfortunately for him, there were plenty of other speakers at the conference whose contributions suggested that the influence of Thatcherism is still strong.

First, we had Mayor of London Boris Johnson heaping praise on the banking industry. That's just what you need when you want to convince the public you're on their side - blundering Boris defending the practices of those who brought our country to its knees. Good timing, Boris!

More concerning was the number of delegates keen to preach the merits of the free market in combating the complexities of Britain's current socio-economic difficulties. Foremost among these contributors was Andrew Mitchell who, in a speech on International Aid, reinforced the Tory philosophy that "private sector growth and wealth creation [are] the only means out of poverty".

This dogmatic approach demonstrates how short the Conservatives are on imaginative solutions to global problems. It also, however, shows them as a party of inflexible followers of a destructive doctrine.

Mr Mitchell praised Margaret Thatcher for her "courage and honesty" and waxed lyrical about the economic legacy of her government (conveniently forgetting the recession of the early 90s). He then returned to his brief of international development, describing some of the serious problems facing Zimbabwe. His solution? To "galvanise Zimbabwe's private sector" as the only way to "rebuild that beleaguered country".

Global poverty needs addressing urgently. There is no escaping the sad realities that poverty causes. In Africa, for example, a deadly combination of political instability, war, HIV/AIDS, climate change, lack of healthcare, insanitation, economic factors and the greed of multi-nationals has created misery for millions. Addressing the social injustice of poverty requires complex and careful thinking, not Thatcherite dogma.

That there are senior Conservatives who actually believe that it is the use of the public sector that has destroyed African economies underlines how removed from reality the Tories are. It is one thing to believe in the value of a free market - quite another to preach that only greater use of the private sector can end poverty. I can only guess what Mr Geldof makes of this...

This is an obsession that is not only unhealthy, but socially dangerous. It makes you wonder what these private sector devotees will do to the NHS - or the Post Office.

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