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In my view.

Byline: By David Taylor-Gooby

Politics appears to disappear during August. With Parliament in recess and many of the leading figures on holiday there is little to report. Recently news of the London atrocities and the famine in Niger has rightly demanded our attention. But in the background politics is still going on, although you could be forgiven for not noticing.

The Tory Party is engaged in a leadership election marathon. At first sight there seems to be more runners than the Grand National, but this is not something only for the small band of Conservative members and the bookies. It is of vital importance for the future of politics in this country.

You might be puzzled to find a committed Labour Party member of 36 years saying that. I can remember the days when we had no hope of being elected, and we could pass any resolution we liked, knowing full well that we would never be able to do much about it.

I am very pleased with the things we have done since we were elected in 1997. But I do not think a one-party state is good for British politics. We need to be challenged and ideas have to be developed in open debate. At the moment this is simply not happening.

Massive reforms are going on at the moment in education and the health service.

It is right that public services should be run efficiently, for the public and not for those who work in them.

It is also the best guarantee to ensure that people get a good service to give them a choice, and this should apply whether or not you have the money to buy privately.

But this does not mean that private provision of services is automatically better than public. What worries me is that this assumption runs through what is happening. There is a determination to force private provision on to the health service, education and public housing whether those responsible feel it is necessary or not.

In some cases private provision is best, but there is also massive evidence of when it is not, such as railway maintenance and the contracts to build the new tube lines in London.

The danger with private provision is that public accountability becomes far more remote, if it exists at all.

There is no public debate going on about all this.

The only place where debate is going on is within the Labour Party.

The main critic of the Government's foreign policy was Robin Cook, and of environmental policy it is Michael Meacher.

It is difficult to involve the wider public in all this. Party members do not wish to 'rock the boat' or endanger their colleagues' electoral chances. There is no effective challenge coming from outside, as we would expect in our political system.

The Labour Party does not have to answer to anyone to justify what it is doing. This is not healthy for our system of government.

These are issues where the Conservatives appear to have nothing to say, and the Liberals often contradict themselves.

One Liberal MP is reputed to have said that the only thing binding their policies together is the binding of the manifesto.

This is why the Conservative leadership contest is important.

It is not about whether people wear ties, or which school they went to. It is about developing a coherent set of policies which will challenge the Labour Party and lead to real constructive debate about the future of our country. The Conservative Party has a long and honourable history.

It has to get its act together or someone else will have to apply for the post of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

David Taylor-Gooby is a Labour councillor in Easington, County Durham.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 20, 2005
Words:626
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