The degree of business takeover of key public services under this Tory-led government gathers pace almost by the day. Today’s announcement about a minimum price for alcohol to curb binge drinking is a farce. Sir Liam Donaldson, the former chief medical officer at the Department of Health, judged that the minimum price for a unit of alcohol should be 50p if 3,400 deaths a year from alcohol poisoning and 41,000 cases a year of serious disabling ill-health were to be avoided. The price chosen by the government – or rather, since this is the whole point, by the Wine and Spirits Association – is a pathetic 21p a unit. This is a price so absurdly low that it is estimated that it will affect only some 1% of alcohol sales. The alcohol industry can rest assured that binge drinking can continue unscathed. But that’s not the only issue by a long chalk.
Cameron in his speech yesterday to turn round the growing tide of opposition to Lansley’s NHS bill to be presented tomorrow, defended it without any reference to the actual restructuring and what it means, but solely on the grounds that (i) the proposed measures “are about people’s lives” and the longer they were delayed, the worse it would be, so speed was essential, and (ii) this was modernisation along the lines that Blair always wanted but was thwarted from achieving. His refusal speaks volumes even to comment on the central objections from the Royal Colleges that price competition will undermine quality standards, that a health market will fragment the NHS by squeezing out long-trusted local hospitals through private competitors creaming off the most lucrative parts of the service, that the integrity of GPs will be compromised by putting them in charge of commercial decisions over commissioning, and that the breakneck speed of change is untenable given the demand that the NHS save £20bn over the same 4-year period.
Piling fatuity on vacuity Cameron claimed “every year we delay without improving our schools is another year of children let down”, without so much as a single reference to the record of academies or so-called ‘free schools’ or their impact on the rest of the educational system. Urgency was essential he said to avoid “another year that trust and confidence in law and order erodes”, as though a record number of police officers on the beat and a 35% reduction in crime over the last decade and a half hadn’t happened.
This would be almost amusing if it weren’t so tragic. Cameron says “these reforms are not about ideology” when they are about exactly that – railroading through the wholesale privatisation of all our public services that even the privatisation mania of New Labour didn’t dare to attempt. If Cameron were a second-hand business salesman, would you trust him?