Green shoots of sanity
Irwin Stelzer, who is a right-wing American and is friends with Rupert Murdoch, has written an article in praise of some aspects of the government's social policy. He singles out James Purnell for welfare reform, Alan Johnson for introducing individualised budgeting for social care, and Ed Balls for criticising the so-called 'excuses culture' that poverty causes poor educational performance.
Stelzer calls this the 'green shoots' that 'sounds almost like a call to shrink the role of the state in the daily lives of its citizens', but warns that there are still problems with high taxes, government bureaucrats and trade unions.
I was reading this, and thinking that even as little as a couple of years ago, it would be worth engaging with this - critiquing the idea that Purnell's welfare reforms will 'shrink the role of the state in the lives of its citizens', discussing how individualised social care budgets have to be combined with collective provision to maximise choice, and despairing at the sight of wealthy and privileged people lecturing poor children that they have only themselves to blame if they don't get on and succeed.
But reading this in 2009, Stelzer's arguments aren't just wrong, they are totally out of touch with the real experiences of most people. No one with any experience of the real world thinks that the only reason people are unemployed is because they are lazy; everyone knows that market-based systems can and do produce sub-optimal outcomes; and no one can credibly claim that poverty doesn't make it harder for children to do well at school.
It's no surprise that Stelzer is out of touch, or that his policy prescriptions are ones which would seem ridiculous to most people. He is a rich man speaking up for policies which would benefit other rich men, and it almost goes without saying that neither he nor any of his friends or acquaintances have experience of Britain's welfare system, NHS or schools.
Purnell, Balls and Johnson will probably be pleased to receive praise from Stelzer. But he's an emissary of the old kind of politics, still pushing policies which have been tried and failed. We'll know that the 'green shoots of sanity' are coming through when people like this find their ideas greeted with the obscurity they deserve.