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Peter Bone

Peter Bone (58) has been Tory MP for Wellingborough since he won it from Labour in 2005. Labour had captured it in the 1997 landslide with a majority of 187 and increased the majority to 2,355 on a smaller turnout in 2001, but Peter Bone had a majority of 687 in 2005. The Labour vote collapsed in 2010, falling by nearly 40% or over 9,000 votes.

He came to politics relatively late by modern standards. He started as an accountant rising to be finance director in a modest engineering company in 1977 and, according to the BBC, CEO 1983-90 of another company so modest I have been unable to find it on the Companies House Register either as current or dissolved – of course, it may have been incorporated elsewhere.

He was a local councillor (in Southend) 1977-86 and deputy chairman of the Southend West Conservative Association for most of that time. He was given a hopeless seat to fight in the 1992 election, tried and failed in Wellingborough in 2001 and won it in 2005.

I confess not to have heard of him until this morning when he appeared on the Today programme for 11 minutes in a peak slot (immediately after the 8am news) discussing the NHS with Dr Evan Harris, a former Lib Dem health spokesman. It was the kind of performance that gives backbenchers a bad name.

He was loyal:

In the prime minister you have someone who is absolutely committed to the NHS and in Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, you have someone who has years and years of experience, so what they are planning to do is to improve the Health Service, not destroy it …

Yes. I think we can take that as read. The question, however, is whether the proposals in the stalled bill are likely to help towards that end.

He continues:

So I can’t understand why politicians signed up on this policy a few months ago, voted for it, are now changing their mind.

So, MPs should not scrutinise the legislation carefully? If you voted in favour at second reading, you should not challenge the detail?

Oh, no, wait a minute, he want to eat his cake too:

I am a parliamentarian, I believe in parliamentary scrutiny. But just because it is up for grabs doesn’t mean it needs to be changed. I think people must make the argument that if you can get more services for less money through the charitable or private sector, then that is what people want. They don’t care whether it is a state hospital, a private hospital or a charitable hospital that treats them, they just want to be treated. And we must do that in the most efficient way.

That is hard to argue with. Certainly some people take positions on this without troubling to investigate or analyse the facts. But there is a great deal of dispute about whether involving the private sector in the NHS does actually improve efficiency. There are certainly well-documented cases where PFI has dramatically increased costs with no discernible advantages.

But it turns out that Bone is one of those who is not interested in facts or analysis. He knows the right answer without them.

[In his constituency some operations are done at] the private hospitals, paid for by the NHS, free at the point of delivery, absolute commitments from the government, plus more money for the Health Service. So it seems to me that it is very difficult how you could oppose that unless you are sort of sticking up for some sort of state system, dinosaurs really. Nobody can doubt that the prime minister loves the NHS and nobody can doubt that he wants to reform it.

So we should all cheer the leader and let him do what he wants, because he is such a good chap. Please.

At this point the Lib Dem raised some reasonable points about how transferring the routine operations to private sector providers can destabilise NHS hospitals which have to provide the complex care and emergency care which no private sector provider is interested in providing. In other words, you have to look quite carefully at which pieces you farm out to private sector providers. Bone was not interested in debating this.

Well, I just think that was a dinosaur talking. I mean why would any NHS hospital be scared of competition. Because if it improves the quality and care in that NHS hospital, it must be right. It is the argument that oh well you have to have the state run the telephones, everything has to be done by the state. Clearly that is not the case.

What is the point of MPs who cannot get beyond this kind of sloganeering? Yes, privatising the telephones was the correct move. However, installing a series of absolutely useless regulators was a serious mistake. We are now knee-deep in abuses by the telephone companies because we have inadequate regulation. Simply handing things over to unbridled private sector competition is not a recipe for a good, reasonably priced service. You have to prevent abuse by monopolies and oligopolies.

Interestingly, the most abusive company in the phone area is not BT despite its near monopoly position in landline services. The worse abuses are in the mobile area where there are three or four strong companies. But they find it convenient to cooperate in gouging the consumer. Just as the major banks cooperate in various ways in gouging the consumer to rebuild their balance sheets after a period of heavy losses.

The potential for abuse in the NHS is even worse, if only because the situation is much closer to (local) monopoly provision. So that means that we need to try hard to learn from past regulatory mistakes. Bone simply isn’t interested in getting into any sensible discussion about it. We must just back Lansley, because he has years of experience, and Cameron because he loves the NHS.

The Lib Dem now tried to get onto the fact that the NHS involves professionals working in close cooperation and that that feature makes it different from many more straightforward markets, but the interviewer wanted to get back to raw politics: Clegg is only making a fuss because of the Lib Dem’s poor showing in the recent council elections (and Scottish/Welsh Assembly elections).

This allowed Bone to repeat his earlier points that no one should raise any important points now because Clegg had signed the white paper last year and Lib Dems voted in favour at 2nd reading.

{ 6 } Comments

  1. Tom Welsh | 18 May 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Yes, there was a time when many people thought certain public utilities were best run by the state; then along came a new generation of politicians who had (rather belatedly) heard of free-enterprise capitalism and thought that competition guaranteed a better deal for the consumer.

    The really sad thing is that all of us who are capable of learning from experience (sadly, a minority) have noticed that incompetence, complacency, greed, and selfishness are common to both state and private enterprise. That is because all large organisations depend critically on the human element; and, as Kant mournfully observed, “out of the crooked timber of humanity was never any straight thing made”.

    So earnest discussions of state versus private completely miss the point. The real questions should be, “How can we find people of good enough quality?” and “How can we motivate them to work hard, innovate, and stretch every sinew, without allowing them to gorge themselves on the seed corn?”

  2. Katrina | 27 August 2011 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Mr Bone has written a Cornerstone Paper on abolishing the NHS……”Just Three Letters”.

    He’s also written a Public Standards Paper (Members of Parliament: Are they worth a penny a day?) on why he should get over £286,600 per annum…without producing receipts.

  3. Katrina | 27 August 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    The Public Standards Paper on why he should get £286,600 pa.

  4. John Scholes | 29 August 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    @Bone’s expenses paper

    Interesting. Thank you. It is dated May 2009. It is mainly about the (relatively technical) Schedule E/Schedule D point. Should MPs be taxed as employees. Of course, he would rather they were not, because the expenses rules are tougher for employees. But he makes some reasonable points.

  5. John Scholes | 29 August 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    @Just Three Letters


    I think this probably came out in 2006 or 2007. It is certainly not recent. For example, a 2008 article by Peter Bone on the Cornerstone site refers to it

    It seems to fall into two parts, criticisms of the then status quo (easy), and “solutions”, which appears to be (p11 onwards) more private sector provision and compulsory insurance.

    This is just facile. He has not begun to get to grips with the complications or arguments.

    I do not think either of these papers change my view of Peter Bone! But I am not entirely clear whether you were supporting or criticising him. I assumed from the “without receipts” that you were not a strong supporter!

  6. Katrina | 29 August 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Hi John, yes, you’re right, I am not a supporter. I am one of his constituents and there are so many things that Mr Bone has done that are not acceptable (that I can’t put on a public site). And so many people here have the same view as yourself, even people who voted for him are regretting it. There will be changes at the next election, I think and hope.

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