April 20, 2012


The Right-wing agitators out to get David Cameron: The Prime Minister is besieged by Conservative critics oblivious to the man on the street. (Peter Oborne, 18 Apr 2012, The Telegraph)

 The Cameron/Clegg Government is strong. The coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives is working far better than many people expected. There have, of course, been severe problems, but both sides have kept to the promises made in the Coalition Agreement.

Last month's Budget was a shambles. Nevertheless, George Osborne's economic strategy has not collapsed, and he deserves admiration for his attempt to confront tax-dodgers head on, even though he has not got it quite right yet. And bear in mind that if Britain had pursued the spending plans set out by Alistair Darling before the election, or by Ed Balls after it, we would be having trouble financing our deficit in the markets, and long-term interest rates would be climbing towards double figures.

Meanwhile, the Coalition has pushed through very bold reforms. Andrew Lansley has been the first health secretary since Kenneth Clarke 25 years ago to take on the vested interests behind the NHS. Iain Duncan Smith and his hugely talented team are confronting the moral problem created by the post-war welfare state, and in doing so are liberating hundreds and thousands of men and women to lead responsible, fulfilled lives free of state dependency. 
Likewise, it is hard to praise too highly the work being carried out by Michael Gove. For half a century, the teaching unions have enforced a regime of mediocrity and low standards in British schools, condemning millions of children to a second-rate life. Gove is the first education secretary to have the courage to try to do something about this criminal abuse of power.

But forcing change on the heroic scale envisaged by these men is very difficult. The easy bit is pushing the legislation through Parliament. The more intractable and often heartbreaking task is changing very deep-seated cultures inside departments, local bureaucracies, schools, hospitals and housing estates. Fundamentally, the success or failure of the Coalition no longer has much to do with what is going on in Westminster or being written in newspapers. Its fate is being decided where it really matters, in Jobcentres in Sunderland and classrooms in Swindon: out there on the ground.

Nevertheless, Parliament must continue to meet, and newspapers must be written. And here there is a dangerous vacuum. This has not been filled by the Labour Party, which has a constitutional duty to oppose but is hampered by the fact that it largely agrees with the Coalition's most profound reforms.
The vacuum has been occupied by a handful of loud voices on the Right wing of the Tory party, who have created a narrative that David Cameron is incompetent and out of touch.

Posted by at April 20, 2012 5:45 AM

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