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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
Howard stresses 'right to choose'
Michael Howard has swapped around his shadow cabinet
Tory leader Michael Howard has said his plans to give patients and parents "the right to choose" will break the political consensus on public services.

In a speech on Tuesday, he compared the plans to how the Thatcher government broke the mould on the economy.

Mr Howard is stressing choice in health and education as he tries to focus his party's efforts on domestic issues.

Labour's "command and control" approach to public services had failed over the last seven years, he said.

'Desperate need'

His speech at the Institution of Civil Engineers in central London marks the start of the second stage in the Tory strategy for winning the next general election.

Tory officials say the party has held back on policy announcements in recent months but is now ready to flesh out how it would reform what it says are outdated public services.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis claimed the 'right to choose' proposal would "take money out of the NHS and put it straight into the pockets of the private sector".

"For the Tories to claim their plan will benefit poor people is complete and utter nonsense," he said.

In his speech, Mr Howard said he had returned to frontline politics two years ago because he was angry British patients were having to settle for "second best" healthcare compared with other countries.

We must let parents and patients choose what they believe is best for them and their children
Michael Howard
Tory leader

Attacking Tony Blair's record, he said: "The reality is that Labour have spent without real reform. That is also Labour's tragedy. It is also the country's tragedy."

The government might be able to make partial claims of success but ministers were "deluding themselves" if they thought they could transform public services through Whitehall "diktats", he argued.

He continued: "We must let parents and patients choose what they believe is best for them and their children. This is a very big change.

"It means ending the command and control political consensus on public services that has persisted for far too long, but failed to deliver."

Health values

The Tory ambition was to give everybody the kind of choice that currently only people with money could buy.

More detailed plans are expected to be unveiled next week but Mr Howard outlined core principles for healthcare:

  • Money will follow the patient's choice

  • "Guaranteed free access to comprehensive healthcare for all"

  • Incentives for efficiency, quality and value for money

  • Minimising the scope for political interventions.

Shadow cabinet
Leader Michael Howard
Foreign affairs and deputy leader Michael Ancram
Shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin
Education Tim Collins
Home affairs David Davis
Co-chairmen Liam Fox and Maurice Saatchi
Health Andrew Lansley
Chief Whip David Maclean
Shadow secretary for families Theresa May
Local government Caroline Spelman
Shadow leader in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde
Work and pensions David Willetts
Environment and transport Tim Yeo

Under Tory plans for "patients passports", people would be able to choose to be treated in any NHS hospital - or take 60% of the cost of their operation out of the NHS to go private.

The policies are now being called "the right to choose".

Labour have claimed that system amounts to a passport out of the NHS for the rich.

Mr Howard reshuffled his shadow cabinet on Monday, creating separate roles of shadow health and education secretaries but denied it was a panic reaction to the Euro election results.

Tim Yeo, who had looked after both those roles, moves to become shadow environment and transport secretary.

Domestic focus

On Tuesday, the Tory leader told BBC Breakfast: "Tim Yeo's done a fantastic job in getting us to the point where we are ready to explain the policies in detail, but now that's just too much for one man to do."

His speech prompted a new attack from Chief Secretary to the Treasury Paul Boateng.

He said: "Yesterday's panic reshuffle and changing the names of his policies will not disguise the fact that the Tory plan for public services is cuts, charges and privatisation.

"They are committed to an immediate 18bn cut to vital pubic services like defence, police and transport and they want to privatise our schools and hospitals."

Blair set for Euro poll grilling
15 Jun 04  |  Politics
Howard reshuffles his Tory team
14 Jun 04  |  Politics

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