Saturday, May 12, 2012

A renewal of vows? Pull the other one

There is a school of thought that says that once a government gets itself into a position where it needs a relaunch, the brand is probably already so badly tarnished as to render the whole exercise pointless.

To be fair, the Coalition is probably not at that point yet. It is only two years into its existence, and governments of a far older vintage have come back strongly from similar periods of mid-term blues before now.

But the largely negative reaction to this week’s relaunch, with Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech at its centrepiece, does suggest that the government’s current difficulties go deeper than merely a run of bad headlines.

Coming in the wake of a disastrous Budget, a dismal set of local election results, and the continuing slow drip of damaging revelations from the Leveson Inquiry, it seems the Coalition is currently suffering from a bad case of the political Reverse Midas Touch.

Three major criticisms have been made of the legislative package announced by Her Majesty in what, for her, was surely the least eagerly-awaited public engagement of this her Diamond Jubilee year.

The first was that, with only 16 Bills, it was ‘too thin,’ but for my part, I wonder whether this was not in fact a point in its favour.

Over the past two decades, we have been subjected to an increasing deluge of legislation, for instance the 21 criminal justice bills spewed out by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s administrations over the course of 13 years.

A Conservative-led government, committed to reducing the burden of regulation and shrinking the size of the state, should perhaps have made more of a virtue of this year’s relative paucity.

The second most oft-heard criticism this week was that there was little or nothing in the programme specifically directed towards tackling the country’s current economic difficulties or producing a programme for growth.

But this, surely, is a category error.  Budgets, not Queen’s Speeches, are where you set out your economic policy, and Labour leader Ed Miliband should perhaps have known better than to make the main focus of his attack.

The third main criticism of the Speech – and the biggest one as far as most Tory backbenchers are concerned – was that it concentrated too much on Lib Dem hobby-horses such as House of Lords reform and not enough on issues that mat

Again, this depends on your point of view.  A second chamber elected by proportional representation from region-wide constituencies could well provide a stronger voice for regions such as the North-East – but I can well understand why the Tories, in particular, would not want that.

For me, the most fundamental flaw in Wednesday’s speech was not that it was too thin, too lacking in economic content or too Liberal Democrat, but that it lacked a unifying narrative which would give people a reason to support the government.

Say what you like about Mr Blair, his Queen’s Speeches never suffered from this deficiency, even if, as time went on, they tended to be more about protecting people from nightmares than giving them dreams of a better future.

Perhaps the reason it lacked a unifying theme because it was less the product of one man’s over-arching vision and more the product of compromise between the government’s two constituent parties.

In this respect, the most interesting political story of the week was not the Speech, but Prime Minister David Cameron’s interview with the Daily Mail in which he bemoaned his lack of freedom of action to do the things he really wanted.

What was especially notable about this is that, while Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg loudly and often complains about the Conservatives, Mr Cameron very rarely does the same about the Lib Dems.

Yet here was the Prime Minister saying:  “There is a growing list of things that I want to do but can’t…..there is a list of things that I am looking forward to doing if I can win an election and run a Conservative-only government.”

This week’s relaunch had been billed in advance by some cynics as the Coalition’s “renewal of vows,” but Mr Cameron’s interview shows this to be well wide of the mark.

In truth, it seems to be heading all the more rapidly for the divorce courts.

1 comment:

www.greenworldbvi.com said...

I think the public's patience with traditional politicians is at an all time high. It seems like non-traditional politicians such as Boris Johnson are popular these days. It seems like parties such as UKIP and even BNP are seeing openings as well.
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