"Reform" is one of the most devalued words in politics. It should go into lexographical dustbin along with "radical" and "change".
Consider the issue of welfare "reform". Alarmed by the Tories unveiling of "radical" welfare "reforms", Gordon Brown is today highlighting his own "radical reforms". He and his new welfare secretary, James Purnell, will pledge to introduce proposals recommended by the ex City banker David Freud. This is just, you may recall, what the Tories did a few weeks ago. Freud called for the provision of job search, placement and preparation to be privatised and incentivisised so that voluntary organisations and private companies are rewarded for how successful they are both in getting the unemployed back into work and ensuring that they stay there. Both parties now say they'd do what he called for.
That is not to suggest that there are no differences on welfare policy. Brown's emphasis is on the acquisition of skills. Today, fresh from his sightseeing in India and China, he will talk of a "skills race" replacing the "arms race" as the problem facing modern politicians. He is fond of repeating the claim that Britain has 5 million unskilled workers but will soon only need half a million. Hence, his solutions focus on extending the effective school leaving age, extending the number of apprenticeships and compelling the unemployed to develop their skills.
The Conservatives are, naturally enough, sceptical of some of these grand state interventions and have focussed more on simply getting the unemployed back into any form of work. Hence their proposal for New York style workfare for the persistently unemployed. Although, I note, that they shied away from "radical" (in the true sense of the word) welfare "reforms" like those in Wisconsin which time-limited the payment of benefits.
I well recall Margaret Thatcher's ministers talking of "radical" shake-ups of the welfare state and Tony Blair's promise to "think the unthinkable" on "welfare reform". My conclusion. I'll believe it when I see it.