Saturday, May 29, 2010

The old politics is back

Is politics returning to normal? Even before the government's pettyfogging decision to boycott Question Time over, of all things, the presence of Bad Al Campbell on the panel, the signs were there. Here's today's Journal column.

After the unchartered waters of the post-election period and the initial excitement of the Lib-Con coalition deal, the political events of the past week had a reassuringly familiar feel to them.

A Conservative Chancellor unveiled a swingeing package of spending cuts. Labour frontbenchers queued up to attack them.

Meanwhile a Conservative Education Secretary unveiled plans to reduce the role of local authorities in schools – as Labour accused him of trying to recreate a two-tier education system.

So much for the 'new politics.' This was just like old times.

For the North-East, the new political era is already carrying unwelcome echoes of the Thatcher-Major years.

National newspapers have once again started to carry long features on the region's plight, and how its relatively high proportion of public sector jobs will leave it vulnerable to the spending cutbacks. Tell us something we don't know.

The one bright star on the horizon is that ministers have bowed to the demands of this newspaper among others to retain a region-wide economic body.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles moreorless confirmed on Wednesday that this would be the existing job-creation agency One NorthEast, albeit in a radically slimmed-down form.

But though some will doubtless bemoan the loss of Labour's child trust funds, there is a consensus of sorts over the cuts, the only argument being whether they should have happened now or later.

Michael Gove's education proposals - a re-run of the Major government's grant-maintained schools initiative - are however likely to be far more controversial.

By opening the way to thousands of schools to become 'academies,' the Tories' real aim appears to be to further neuter the role of local government.

For all the talk of 'localism,' all this will result in is more and more schools being directly-funded – and thus ultimately controlled – from the centre.

Labour activists, many of whom are teachers and many more of whom work in local government, will hate this measure probably more than any other to emerge from the coalition so far.

In terms of the Labour leadership contest, it ought to play into the hands of the former children's secretary, Ed Balls, who led the attack on it this week in his usual combative style.

Nevertheless Mr Balls remains very much an outsider in the race which thus far looks set to be a contest between the Miliband brothers, David and Ed.

The election of South Shields MP David as Labour leader would, at least, be some compensation for the fact that the North-East is the only region without a single MP in the government.

Of all the many vignettes that have emerged from that strange five-day post-election limbo when no-one quite knew who had won, one of the most intriguing concerns a 3am conversation between Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown.

The former Lib Dem leader was apparently begging his old friend to broker a Lib-Lab coalition and finally realise their dream of a new 'progressive alliance.'

But Mr Blair said no, it was time Labour went into opposition, arguing that if it clung on to power this time round, it would pay a terrible price at the next election.

As the initial euphoria around the coalition subsides, and the harsh reality of its programme starts to bite, it is looking increasingly like the right judgment call.

free web site hit counter

No comments: