Sunday, 11 July 2004
When I go to my local pub for supper I want to be sure that there is a wide enough menu to ensure I don't have to stick to steak every time. When I go looking for a new skirt I seriously hope that knee length navy blue A-line is not the only option available unless I am in a reminiscent of school days mood. When nosing in the fishmongers, scallops might be great for Saturday, but I might prefer tuna on Tuesday. Yes, choice can be great. But if I want to buy water, gas or electricity, want to post a letter or parcel, need directory enquiries, will fall over unless my broken leg is fixed or need to be sure that my neighbours children will be well educated, I don't want choice. I want a single sure-fire service of absolute excellence available to me and everyone else. I don't want to compare prices or quality of service from a choice of bum deals; I want one simple customer-focused delivery that will fix my leg to perfection whether I live in the North or the South without me having to dither about which hospital will do a better job. I want clean water, guaranteed not to be cut off if I find myself in penury. I want a bus service that can't be cut because it is a lifeline to just 20 people. I want the best school on my doorstep, because they all have to be best. I don't want choice, I want excellence, and I fear that "choice" will become the wicked issue of the early 21st century. You know that something is seriously wrong when all the opposition party can say in response to the government's new plans for schools is "you stole our idea" like some playground spat, because everyone wants "choice" to be their slogan of the year. Choice when attributed to public service suggests duplication, profiteering, expensive marketing campaigns and cutting of front-line services. I don't want to spend my life chasing the best rate for electricity or filling my bin with insistent exclamations that someone, somewhere can do something better/cheaper/with a wee free gifty if only I would just sign on the dotted line. You can just see it - "we use softer plaster in a wild range of colours to fix your leg more pleasantly, our nurses are easier on the eye, our doctors have a fab bedside manner and you only have to travel 500 miles to get it".