Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My Top 10 New Labour Cock-Ups

The knives are out today for Ruth Kelly following the HIPs debacle which is being understandably seen as another example in the long list of New Labour ballsups. Mike Smithson is tipping both Kelly and Patsy Hewitt for the chop in El Gordo's first reshuffle, while Iain Dale has been inspired to launch a poll to find New Labour's most incompetent minister. Only Guido Fawkes of the uber-bloggers has a good word to say about the Blessed Ruth, pointing out (rightly in my view) that Housing Minister Yvette Cooper was much more personally associated with the wretched sellers' packs.

But where, if at all, does it figure in the list of all-time New Labour cock-ups? Well, let's face it, no-one died. Here, for what it's worth is, my Top 10, and with reference to Iain's poll, it follows from this that, without question, the most incompetent New Labour minister is Tony Blair, with Stephen Byers a clear second.

1. Iraq. Hundreds of British soldiers killed in conflict over non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Total absense of pre-planning for aftermath leads to state of civil war. Trust in political process totally collapses after truth about WMD and dodgy intelligence finally emerges. Minister primarily responsible: Tony Blair.

2. Foot and mouth. Millions of healthy animals needlessly slaughtered after Government fails to send in Army soon enough for fear of panicking the country ahead of 2001 general election. Minister responsible: Nick Brown took the rap, but this was Blair's call too.

3 Pension fund raid. PM-elect Brown has valiantly defended this move as a means of targeting resources where they were needed most, but some other way should have been found to do this without entirely wrecking the country's private pensions industry. Minister responsible: Gordon Brown.

4. Jo Moore burying bad news. Besides the death of Dr Kelly (which is covered by the generic cock-up heading of Iraq) this did more than anything else to destroy public trust in New Labour. Minister responsible: Stephen Byers for employing Moore, Blair for initially refusing to allow Byers to sack her.

5. Deportation of foreign prisoners. Proof that the Home Office was indeed "not fit for purpose," it was amazing that such a media-obsessed government didn't spot this disaster waiting to happen. Minister responsible: Charles Clarke, with input from Jack Straw and David Blunkett.

6. Railtrack. The creation of Failtrack will go down as possibly the greatest cock-up of the Major Government. Stephen Byers attempted to put things right, but went about it in totally the wrong way and then tried to evade the truth about it when challenged. Minister responsible: Byers.

7. Health overspends. A government that comes into office pledging to "save the NHS" and pumps more than £20bn of additional spending into the service ends up closing hospitals. Minister responsible: Pat Hewitt has got the blame, but most say the rot set in under John Reid.

8. Millennium Dome. I have been criticised for including this folly in a previous list of New Labour policy failures but seriously, this should have been a celebration of British endeavour on a par with the Festival of Britain or the Great Exhibition. Minister responsible: Peter Mandelson, abetted by Blair.

9. North East regional assembly referendum. You could list any number of devolution-related cock-ups from opposing Ken Livingstone to making Alun Michael Welsh First Minister. But holding a referendum you were bound to lose goes down as the silliest. Minister responsible: John Prescott.

10. The 2003 Reshuffle. This was the one that was supposed to create a Ministry of Justice and abolish the Lord Chancellorship together with the Scottish and Welsh Offices. It was all reversed within hours of being announced. Minister responsible: Tony Blair.

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17 comments:

septicisle. said...

and coming soon:

ID Cards
NHS IT programme and database

VFTN said...

What about Prescott's ten year transport plan?

MorrisOx said...

11) Fiona Jones, the MP who was hung out to dry by men of straw

glass house said...

2,3 and 7 could only be viewed as government cock ups by someone who is profoundly ignorant of the issues.

Sorry.

MorrisOx said...

It wasn't the issues that were the problem, glass house.

In this case I fancy you're the profoundly ignorant one.

That or someone with a faith in human nature unsullied by direct experience of what Westminster ambition will do to people.

Paul Linford said...

Glasshouse

2. I followed this story extremely closely. I know for a certain fact that Nick Brown wanted certain courses of action to be followed that could have mitigated the crisis in its early days which were vetoed by No 10. The only reason for doing so was that, at that point, Blair still wanted to hold the election in May and was reluctant to do anything that might cause the public to think we were in a state of national emergency. By the time he was persuaded to move it to June, the F&M epidemic was completely out of hand.

3. Okay, so my take on this is a point of view rather than a statement of fact. But it seems to be a rather commonly-held point of view that the pension fund raid had, shall we say, certain unintended consequences.

7. The Government allowed spending on health to rise too quickly to be sustainable, so that when the spending increases slowed down, it was inevitable that cuts had to be made. This was entirely forseeable.

David Gladwin said...

3. This one is simple. Either it was deliberate, and Brown was aware of the consequences (in which case he's an absolute rotter) or it was unintentional, and he didn't realise what would happen (in which case he wasn't fit to be Chancellor).

7. The Government also carried on the silly "poker game" process of just boasting about how much more than the previous administration they'd spent on the NHS. Clearly not enough attention was paid to the issue of efficiency.

media scum said...

An alternative counter factual history would have seen Brown taking action against Pension Funds and their trustees who agreed to contribution holidays on the part of employers.

Anonymous said...

The consequences of the pensions tax was, according to FoI data obtained by The Times, pointed out to Mr Brown and he decided to ignore it. His culpability for the demise of thousands of these funds with consequences for millions of people is clear. It rightly deserves the #3 slot in your list.

Media scum appears not to understand the role and relationship of pension trustees viv a vis employers and how they contribute to final salary schemes. Pension funds and their Trustees are legally separate from the employers - their job is to adminster the fund and to point out the financial status of the fund. It is the obligation on employers is to fund the scheme over time. There is plenty of evidence to show that employers topped up schemes in times of shortfall (such as the 1970s when stockmarkets went into freefall) just as they took pension holidays when markets were strong. The employers obligation is to meet a pension promise - not to put in the same fixed contribution each year.

That all changed when Brown`s pensions tax was introduced because it resulted an estimated extra cost of £5 billion a year to the pension funds. In effect the tax relief to the funds now became a tax on the companies. Their choice was either to cough up the extra costs or close down the funds, or at least new entrants to them. Unsurprisingly thousands of them took the closure option. There were some 14 million members of pension schemes back in 1997. Those that understand what has happened to their retirement savings are not happy about the consequences of the Brown tax. Not many spotted the consequences at the time - far more do today and they will be reminding Mr Brown of this for as long as he is in office.

media scum said...

For anonymous's info, i was for some four years, a trustee of a medium sized pension fund. There is a fiduciary duty on the part of trustees to advise the contributing employers of their actions. But it is clear that when this advice was tendered to a number of employers, they ignored it. Hence my view that this was something Brown (and, of course, DWWP Ministers) could have dealt with at source. A missed opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Putting Railtrack out of its misery should have been a big plus for the Government. Railtrack was a private monopoly that had been given responsibility for national asset. It was failing spectacularly at its first big project, the West Coast Main Line Upgrade. It was more focused on its property portfolio, and on regular dividends, than on looking after its assets.

Putting Railtrack out of its misery wasn't bad news that should have been buried. However the Government didn't want to admit that there were contradictions in having a provate company looking after a public service. So it did the job badly and turned an opportunity into a threat.

PS If you want to do a list of Blair's lies, I think the one about the public sector messing up the Jubilee Line Extension ought to be on it.

The Labour Humanist said...

The coverage rate for occupational and private pensions peaked in, wait for it, 1967. Despite the tory vandalism of the serps scheme and inducements to go private in the 1980s the factors contributing to the long term decline continued. To blame brown's decision on ACT for the decline is simplistic, if that isn't doing the term simplistic an injustice. The decline started long before brown, it's a short-term political ruse to try and pin the blame on him.

Anonymous said...

It is no short term political ruse on the part of the 14 million members of pension schemes to blame Mr Brown for his tax on pension funds. What they are worried about is the consequence his tax has had on their savings for retirement and old age. This is not just a matter of the decline but of the destruction of such schemes. Moreover it seems it was deliberate and intentional.

james higham said...

What about the Diana Fountain, Paul?

skipper said...

Paul
Surprised you did not mention the EU farming subsidies cock-up...or the £2bn tax credit overspend... or the overgenerous doctor's deal....

media scum said...

James Higham: The Di fountain was commissioned by the Di Support gorup headed up by hr family and friends) You cannot pin htis one on the government. All they did was allow it to be put in one of the Royal Parks

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