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Sunday, June 19, 2005

There is a strong belief amongst the so-called “modernisers” that the Tories need to shift leftward, because that’s where Britain and its problems are. Despite seeing a need for some changes in the Conservatives, I tend to disagree quite a lot with this approach because it’s an abandonment of things we know to be right purely for the sake of appearing “nice” and passing the “dinner party test”. But there can be another way. I’ll take today’s story on nurses being priced out of their profession in London as a case in point.
Well, basically the problem is that the amount of money needed for living in London is higher than what a nurse’s salary provides. There are two ways of fixing this situation: lower the living costs or raise the salaries.
The Government’s reaction will undoubtedly be its usual mixture of regulating around in the housing market and otherwise closing their eyes and hoping that somehow some more (illegal) migrant labour will fix the problem. They are lowering the costs of living, in this case housing.
Conservatives meanwhile should advocate raising nurses’ salaries. To avoid this becoming unaffordable the pay rises should be restricted to London and might be complemented by pay cuts in less expensive areas. This would be a sound conservative approach by being realistic about market forces, by limiting red tape and by taking on the redundant pseudo-egalitarian doctrine that prevents Labour and LibDems from advocating such flexible salary arrangements.
Such an approach would solve a public service problem and be recognisably Conservative at the same time. Rather than aping the centre-left, the Tories should argue for such policies that will appeal to voters concerned about public services but that avoid the follies of the centre-left. The Tories don’t need to mimic their opponents, but instead need some confidence that their message can be both right and popular.
And above all they do need to argue this continuously.

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