Saturday, December 13, 2003

here's a good example...
of how patient choice improves medicine.

AN ALTERNATIVE healer who claimed that he could cure cancer was told yesterday that he faced jail after being convicted of two offences under the Trades Descriptions Act.

Reginald Gill, 68, of Poole. Dorset, who described himself as a wellness practitioner, sold a terminally ill cancer patient an electronic device that he said would reverse the illness

If you happen to be a hardcore libertarian, none of this is a problem except in its contractual dimension. You've got the right to go to hell in your own way, like any other damn fool. But this is not how the notion of choice fits into the New Labour worldview.

In the real world, choice is limited by both supply and information. Our choice in medicine is always going to be limited by the fact that we don't have the same level of knowledge as medical providers. And sometimes there isn't much choice, just a way of doing things which leads to a cure and a whole lot of other ways that lead to death.

In NewLabourWorld, choice "empowers". The very ability to make choices confers power and wisdom. The choices themselves are all of equal value, each being part of a great mosiac of diversity. This is not a matter of intellectual enquiry. In fact it's quite the reverse. It's about the acquisition of goods and services as fetishes and taboos of a private religion.

The logic of this in policy terms is that Mr Gill was not really a crook, he was just offering choices that the still producer-dominated health service was too inflexible to appreciate. On a slightly less bizarre level, this is what the MMR furore is about too. As choice extends itself through the health service, other Mr Gills may have the opportunity to offer their nostrums and crystals to the public, courtesy of the taxpayer, who will in return be expected to make "co-payments" for the costs of having his or her broken leg set in plaster, or some other prosaic cure not amenable to psychic waves and spirit guidance.

Leadership in this comes straight from the top.

A year ago, the Times printed the following account of what they did on their summer holidays at the luxurious Maroma Hotel on Mexico's Caribbean coast. The Blairs visited a 'Temazcal', a steam bath enclosed in a brick pyramid. It was dusk and they had stripped down to their swimming costumes. Inside, they met Nancy Aguilar, a new-age therapist. She told them that the pyramid was a Mayan womb in which they would be reborn. The Blairs saw the shapes of animals in the steam and experienced 'inner-feelings and visions'. They smeared each other with melon, papaya and mud from the jungle, and then let out a primal scream of purifying agony. No one followed-up the Times's scoop - deference is not as dead as some people would have you think.

When the Blairs moved into Downing Street, a feng shui expert rearranged the furniture at Number 10. Cherie wears a 'magic pendant' known as the BioElectric Shield, which is filled with 'a matrix of specially cut quartz crystals' that surround the wearer with 'a cocoon of energy' and ward off evil forces. (It was given to her by Hillary Clinton, another political spouse who combines the characteristic Third Way vices of sharp prac tice and bone-headedness.) Then there have been inflatable Flowtron trousers, auricular therapy and acupuncture pins in the ear.

New Age Labour has spilled out of Downing Street and blighted public policy. In January 1999, for instance, the Government recruited a feng shui consultant, Renuka Wickmaratne, to discover a magical way to improve inner-city estates without raising taxes

I've always thought of New Labour as more of a cargo cult than a political movement. But of that, more another time.