Francis Maude: 'Reform does not need to depend on one party alone'

From the Politeia Autumn Address, delivered by the chairman of the Conservative Party, at the headquarters of the think tank, in London

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Tony Blair is planning measures to introduce greater consumer choice, more plural provision, and greater institutional autonomy in schools and in the NHS. There will be a debate whether the Conservative Party should support the legislation in principle, assuming it does actually take reform in the broad direction we favour. There will be a particular concern that our support might be the deciding factor whether the reforms go through at all, given the high levels of dogmatic opposition in Tony Blair's own Labour ranks.

So what should be the Conservative stance?Should we, regardless of our own narrow partisan interests, engage in building a long-term alliance across the party divide in favour of serious public service reform?

We should be in no doubt that people are hungry for realism and hungry for change. Poll after poll shows that people no longer believe that the problems of poor healthcare and education can be solved simply by throwing more money at them. They are willing to be persuaded that even quite radical reforms are needed.

We who agree with Tony Blair's arguments know that choice, diversity and pluralism work. But convincing the public that the uncertainty and disruption that certainly flows from such change is worthwhile is a tough call, let alone persuading them of the merits of the sort of co-payment that Tony Blair has argued for. These are the hard yards of political debate.

It is unlikely to be achieved by one party working alone. And it doesn't need to be. There are Labour MPs who share the analysis and are willing to argue publicly for it. There is a growing number of LibDem MPs who know that this is where the future lies. And the most important thing for this country, after delivering strong economic growth, is to create public services worthy of its citizens.

We must work together in a broad alliance with whoever shares the broad diagnosis and prescriptions to win a broader consensus with the public. If we can do that, we will be ready to serve in government. More than that, we will be worthy of it.

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