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Conservatives to continue Blair’s NHS reforms – Health Policy Today, 8 September 2008

Depending on your political point of view, the news that Team Cameron has been joined by some key Blairite advisors is either a case of forward to the past or a positive case of political continuity.  The people talking to the Conservatives include Matthew Taylor, Julian Le Grand and Ken Anderson.


Back in June, at the start of the summer, Fraser Nelson wrote in the New Statesman that the Conservatives needed some sharp policy ideas .  A lead in the polls could evaporate, he predicted, without substance in policy and (forgive the phrase) some eye-catching ideas.

Nelson said that Team Cameron was beginning to develop some ideas and the source of these would interest Labour voters – many were key influences on the Blair government.

‘…there is no shortage of help from Blair-era advisers. Sir Michael Barber, former head of Mr Blair’s delivery unit, has been generous with his time, as has Matthew Taylor, who used to run the Number 10 policy unit. A former Blair adviser is now working full-time on the Implementation Team. The joke among the orphaned Blairites is that if half a dozen of them embed with the Tories, they could retake power — meeting Mr Blair at his Connaught Square home for weekly instructions.’

Thinking about it, it makes a lot of sense.  Cameron has set out his stall as the ‘heir to Blair’, the Labour leader that many Conservatives could have been happy with.  Ironically, many in the Labour Party are not so keen to have their own heir to Blair, as evidenced by Alan Simpson’s criticisms of David Miliband this weekend.  Simpson says a party led by Miliband would mark a return to the failed ideas of the Blair regime.


It may be that Labour’s rejection of Blairite ideas will make them a more credible concern for the Conservatives.  

As Fraser Nelson notes, ‘the ease with which [the Blairite advisors] slot into Project Cameron is readily explained. The Blair ‘choice’ agenda has mutated into the Cameron ‘empowerment’ agenda. Phil Collins, Mr Blair’s former speechwriter, observed recently that the key dividing line in politics is ‘no longer between left and right’ but ‘between liberal and authoritarian’. The Blairites-for-Cameron can argue, with some justification, that they are fighting for the same cause. And, in Mr Brown, the same enemy.


Yesterday’s Observer reported that  Cameron is tempting more advisors into the Tory ‘big tent’.  

‘Among those ready to help the Conservatives are Professor Julian le Grand, a former adviser on NHS policy, and Ken Anderson a health expert’.

Ken Anderson said the move is positive and good for government.  “There is a tendency for a new government just to rip up everything the last one did.  With something like a modern health service you can’t do that.  You can’t just rip it up and start again.  You need some continuity’.  Julian le Grand says he is happy to work with social democrats of any political flavour – “and David Cameron’s party looks as though it is applying some of those ideas, and if that continues to be the case I would be happy to work with them”.

'The next election might see a Brown-versus-Blair policy argument, only it won’t be Tony Blair making the Blairite argument.  It will be David Cameron and his team of advisors.'

When Blair was in power and Gordon Brown was cast as the brooding chancellor eager to take power so he could make Labour more Labour, there was criticism that we never saw an open debate about the differences between their approaches, on what were the key markers in the Brownite-Blairite policy spectrum.  Even in government, Gordon Brown hasn’t offered a critique of his predecessor’s policy, though he has stopped pretending his stewardship is a continuity project.  

The interesting thing is that the next general election might see a Brown-versus-Blair policy argument, only it won’t be Tony Blair making the Blairite argument.  It will be David Cameron and his team of advisors.