I see no evidence of any consistent philosophy in Conservative thinking about the role of the state, or of the relationship between the public and private sectors. The appearance is, rather, one of fundamental confusion. Eighteenth-century ideas of a minimal state, lifted uncritically from Adam Smith and his contemporaries, are being applied to an economy and society far beyond the imaginations of those pre-industrial thinkers. Even the state's proper monopoly of the enforcement of law and order - the application of force within domestic society - is being eroded by the reintroduction of private security forces and prisons.
The reforming thrust of 19th-century government has been forgotten. We appear to be drifting back towards patronage and corruption (the characteristics of the 18th-century state) in the provision of services regulated by the state, and away from any concept of the public interest, of public service or of active government - ideas espoused with confidence by modernising Conservatives 150 years ago. We have come close to abandoning the idea that public investment should be funded through taxation: the improving principle of Victorian local government, in which again Conservatives played an active and honourable part. Indeed, the Government is close to losing sight of any concept of local democracy as a positive aspect of state power; state intervention now means detailed central control, moderated by politically unaccountable agencies.
Would you like to invite a representative of the Government to explain what their current thinking about the role of the state is?
European Studies Department
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