Irwin Stelzer, the American commentator who is close to Rupert Murdoch, has a fascinating piece in this morning's Daily Telegraph. Stelzer has always been fairly matey with Gordon Brown, but has blown hot and cold of late, and retains his scepticism in this piece about his tax policy. However, his judgment that the welfare and health reforms being introduced by James Purnell and Alan Johnson are radical will send shivers down Conservative spines, not least because they stand in such marked contrast to David Cameron's approach of closing down serious discussion on both issues.
Stelzer also notes that Ed Balls has raised the rhetoric against 'excuses' in education, though it is actually through continuing with academies and forcing change on schools that gain below-par GCSEs that the children's secretary is making a real difference. Unlike Johnson and Purnell, Balls has in Michael Gove a rare Tory opponent, whose understanding of his brief and reforming instincts (even if one doesn't always agree with his solutions) stand in marked contrast to the vacuous Theresa May at welfare and the BMA lobbyist Andrew Lansley at health.
With the recession, it would be tempting for Gordon Brown to ignore the importance of reform in these areas. But if the recovery is to be successful, we need to improve access to health and patients' choices, we need to get long term unemployed people back to work and we need better school results. After some initial suggestions that he was backtracking on the agenda initiated by Tony Blair, there are many encouraging signs that the Prime Minister is keen to pursue a reform agenda. He must continue to find the time to devote to it in these difficult economic times.