The American influence on coalition policy

By Bernadette Meaden
January 2, 2012

David Cameron and his Conservative colleagues make no secret of their admiration of all things American.

Several Cabinet ministers, (William Hague, George Osborne, Michael Gove, and Chris Grayling) were members of Atlantic Bridge, an organisation now defunct because it fell foul of the Charity Commission, and which gained unwanted attention during the Liam Fox/Adam Verrity debacle.

Atlantic Bridge was founded by Liam Fox to bring US Republican ideas into British politics. That specific group may have gone, but in one policy area after another that influence is becoming apparent.

In the NHS we now learn that if government legislation is passed, Foundation Hospitals will be allowed to earn up to 49 per cent of their income from treating private patients.

The government says this will be good news for everybody, but it is difficult to see how hospitals dependent on privileged paying customers will not be tempted to give them priority over less privileged NHS patients.

Norman Niven, Director of a medical packaging company enthuses about the opportunities for private companies to make money, but acknowledges: "Patients on lower incomes will have to accept waiting longer for NHS treatment and an even more limited 'menu' of options to choose from. Those with money to spend will enjoy a greater choice. Sadly, as the private healthcare providers flourish, the NHS will become a last resort." Much like Medicaid for poor Americans.

Another feature of American public life being introduced to the UK is elected Police Commissioners. This could mean that policing priorities become skewed in favour of those most vocal and most able to exert pressure: probably by definition the least vulnerable and least in need of protection.

After last summer’s riots, David Cameron turned to US supercop Bill Bratton to help, whilst in Scotland psychologist Karyn McCluskey had been quietly, patiently, and with great success tackling gangs, by addressing the root causes of gang membership.
Mr. Cameron it seemed, preferred the simplistic, macho, headline-grabbing US alternative.

But perhaps most worrying in terms of social cohesion is the hardening of attitudes towards those on benefits. Daniel Sage, a researcher at the University of Stirling, has shown that in the last couple of years there has been a very steep rise in the use of pejorative language in media coverage of benefit claimants.

This recent story in The Sunimplies, not very subtly, that to be unemployed is almost synonymous with being a criminal. Yet on the same page, and apparently without seeing the contradiction, it reports ‘unemployment figures soar as government cuts bite’.

This stigmatising of claimants has been conducive to government policy, indeed some charities have accused ministers of fuelling prejudice towards disable people, putting them at risk.

In the US, unemployment benefit is limited to 99 weeks, giving rise to the phenomenon of ‘the 99ers’, who are left destitute when their benefits run out. Our government seems to want to go one step further and create ‘the 52ers’, sick and disabled people whose Employment Support Allowance has run out.

In one policy area after another, the government seems to be actively building a society in which the poor, the weakest and the least capable are having their disadvantages compounded and entrenched. This is the American way. On most international measures of social justice and equality, the UK does not do brilliantly. The US does worse.

If we are going to model ourselves on any society, we should be looking to those who are doing better, not trying to join the US in a race to the bottom.

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