Over in The First Post, Neil Clark writes:
The following is the sort of story you'd expect to see on the front page of the Guardian or perhaps the Morning Star. In fact, it was published - under the headline 'Axe falls on NHS services' - in the Sunday Telegraph. Yes, that's right - the 'Sunday Torygraph'.
"NHS bosses have drawn up secret plans for sweeping cuts to services, with restrictions on the most basic treatments for the sick and injured," the report reads. "Dr Peter Carter, the head of the Royal College of Nursing, said he was 'incredibly worried' about the disclosures. 'Andrew Lansley keeps saying that the Government will protect the front line from cuts – but the reality appears to be quite the opposite'."
The most interesting thing about British politics at present is the way that the ruling coalition's extreme neo-liberalism has put it on a collision course not just with the 'old' left, but with conservative Middle England. Aside from the Morning Star, there has been no daily newspaper more unrelentingly critical of the new government than the Daily Mail - the authentic voice of the country's small 'c' conservatives. Last week, Tim Montgomerie, editor of the Conservative Home website, accused the Mail of throwing the kitchen sink at the coalition, after it had run 10 'attack pieces' on a single day.
But if Montgomerie wants the Mail's editor-in-chief Paul Dacre to give the coalition a break, he should be urging the government to drop its reforming radicalism and instead listen to small 'c' conservatives, who are nowhere near as enthusiastic about its 'reform' agenda as pro-privatisation Tory think-tanks would like us to believe. With the economic future so uncertain, Middle England wants security and reassurance, which they're certainly not getting from Cameron and Clegg. On the contrary, the coalition's ideological mission to privatise the British state, using as an excuse the need to cut the deficit, means four years of major upheavals. And it's the reforms to health care which are causing the most concern.
While multimillionaires will feel relaxed about health minister Andrew Lansley's radical plans - which amount to the abolition of the NHS in all but name - most Mail and Telegraph readers do not, and their newspapers are reflecting their great unease. Neo-liberals may loathe it, but the NHS is a 62-year-old institution much loved by British socialists, social democrats and conservatives, and most people understand that if the service is destroyed, they will be pay considerably more for their health care than they do at present. Privatised railways anyone?
Neither is Middle England likely to think much of the sell-off of the Royal Mail (in state hands since 1516) to foreign buyers, nor the hiving off, or closure, of local authority services which they cherish, such as libraries. Small 'c' conservatives are likely to be unhappy, too, over the possible merging of Britain's three armed services, as seems probable after the new Strategic Defence Review. And let's not even get into the government's plans to send fewer criminals to prison and allow private companies to run our jails.
A Britain without an NHS, the Royal Mail or the RAF would have been unthinkable a few years ago, but it could very easily happen over the next few years and all of it brought about by a Conservative-led government. The BBC, another great British institution, is also under threat. We know already that the coalition is likely to face fierce battles this winter with the 'old' left, represented by union leaders such as the RMT's Bob Crow, who has called for a "sustained campaign of generalised strikes" in protest over the government's cuts. But what it probably didn't expect was such fierce opposition from the 'old' right too. With his anti-statist agenda, David Cameron is certainly no 'One Nation' Tory à la Harold Macmillan, but it's clear that when it comes to political strategy, he's no Baroness Thatcher either.
Thatcher, the most successful Conservative leader of the last 30 years, managed to win three elections in a row because she was smart enough to balance her radical economic liberalism, which unsettled many people, with social conservatism, which reassured them. And despite her enthusiasm for privatisation, she also knew when to stop. She made no attempt to 'liberate' the NHS, nor sell off the Royal Mail. By contrast today's coalition government, in its rush to 'reform' everything, and in its embrace of both economic and social liberalism, seems determined to alienate as many people as it possibly can.
The government is no doubt confident that it can survive a winter of industrial discontent: the ministerial pronouncements accusing union leaders of being "wreckers who want to take Britain back to the 1970s" have probably already been written. But if the 'old' left and 'old' right opposition can link up on issues such as defending the NHS and the Royal Mail, saving public libraries and other threatened British institutions, then Nick and Dave could be in real trouble.
Though not, of course, if Labour is stupid enough to give its Leadership to David Miliband, the Downing Street policy wonk who invented each and every one of these schemes, all of which Tony Blair wanted to implement, but none of which he could get past Gordon Brown. Do you miss Brown yet? If not, then you very soon will.