Gerrymandering of health services
22 Oct 2006 - Bruno Prior
Most examples of picking losers are normally quite subtle. Very often, the offending policy is well-meaning, and the harm unintentional. But the abuse by the Labour Party of their control of the levers of power to steer funding towards Labour constituencies and away from Conservative and LibDem constituencies is blatant, intentional and vicious.
The Sunday Telegraph has analysed the finances of hospitals within constituency boundaries, and discovered that 34% of Conservative, 37% of LibDem, but only 14% of Labour constituencies are facing cuts. Labour have tried to spin this as purely coincidental, arguing that as they have many more seats, it was likely that the proportion facing cuts would be lower. But for that to hold water, the numbers of Labour constituencies facing cuts would have to be at least as great as the number of Conservative constituencies. In fact, 67 Tory seats are facing cuts, compared with 44 for Labour. Combined with the earlier discovery that Hazel Blears, Labour Party Chairwoman, had attended meetings (at which she had no official lacuna) where cuts were being decided, this does not look like an accident.
Of course, the country is not so ghettoised that only Tories inhabit Conservative constituencies. Many Labour supporters, who have the bad luck to live in an opposition-controlled constituency, will suffer from their party's gerrymandering, every bit as much as Labour's opponents. But, if you support a party that believes in ever-greater centralisation, you probably have it coming to you. And while the Conservative and LibDem leaderships cling to the current line that they will not reduce the size of the state, and indeed will grow it as the economy grows, you probably don't deserve much better if you support those parties' official policies.
There is only one way to limit politicians' abuse of their powers to try to favour their supporters, and that is to minimise their powers. Unfortunately, we don't have a mainstream party that stands for shrinking the state at the moment. You will have to decide between supporting a minority party, or demanding of your local MP that he openly campaigns for rolling back the frontiers of the state. Vague promises to run things better than the current government are not good enough - which opposition party has ever claimed not to be more competent than the incumbent, and how often have those claims turned out to be true? The promise must be less government, not better government: a smaller state, deregulation, and support for laissez-faire policies. If they can't promise it publicly, don't believe vague reassurances that it's what they really want, but just can't say it. They will have no mandate for change, and nothing will be done. Insist on a public commitment, or withhold your support.