Tuesday 17 August 2010

100 days

Sky has marked 100 days of the coalition with a very silly self-selecting poll, admirably debunked by Anthony Wells. Chris Leslie has produced a list of 100 'regressive' things that the coalition has done. There are plenty of media cheerleaders singing their praises in contrast. But what would a balanced picture look like?

First, the fact that the coalition has emerged is itself an important event in British politics, and one not to be sniffed at. That there would be both Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers in office would have seemed unlikely to many twelve months ago. While we're in a generous mood, we should praise some genuinely positive things that the coalition has done: Cameron's response to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, the broad protection of the overall DFID budget and much of what is in the Academies Act - which largely updates Labour legislation - is to the good, even it is rather stymied by a lack of resources and a failure more explicitly to expect collaboration between good and weak schools. An AV referendum is long overdue (though it should be decoupled from partisan boundary changes). And David Cameron has proved better in the role of PM than might have expected (though Nick Clegg is ten times worse than even I could have imagined).

One can't argue about the need to cut the deficit, but one can certainly argue about the speed with which it is being done and some of the perverse decisions that have followed with nary a whimper from the Lib Dems. In no particular order, I think these are the ten worst things the coalition has done so far:

scrapping Building Schools for the Future projects that were already underway;
abolishing the Audit Commission;
scrapping the Child Trust Fund;
scrapping the Future Jobs Fund;
forcing reluctant GPs to take control of patient budgets;
scrapping NHS waiting time maximums - 18 weeks for treatment; 4 hours at A&E;
abolishing the Film Council;
slowing the nuclear power programme by putting Chris Huhne in charge;
scrapping life-saving speed cameras to appease petrolheads;
Cameron playing to the gallery in India (over Pakistan) and Turkey (over Israel)

I realise that not everyone will agree with this list (and I have left off several aspects of their crime and justice agenda that they will certainly come to regret). On the other hand, I don't think everything on Chris Leslie's list could have been preserved under the cuts planned by Alastair Darling, for example - so I choose these ten because they generally run counter to the declared objectives of the coalition.

Moreover, they illustrate the gung-ho nature of the cuts and a preference for prejudice over evidence in too many coalition decisions: in the process they reduce accountability; endanger children; damage the environment; limit the opportunities for young people to take responsibility for their lives; or reduce our international standing. With GP commissioning, it would have been better to develop it with those who wanted the extra responsibility first (pace academies).

That said, Labour needs to be much more forensic in its approach to the coalition. It needs to support some cuts, while opposing others, and not be ashamed of the best aspects of its own record. The coalition still has a degree of public support after 100 days, even if Labour is just four points ahead; the extent to which Labour can erode that support in the next year will be a measure of the canniness of our next leader.


BobD said...

Cameron might have been playing to the gallery in Turkey but Gaza IS a prison camp. Labour promised an ethical foreign policy so we should not knock him on this issue.

Conor Ryan said...

BobD - my criticism is not of what he said so much as where he said it. If he wants to criticise Israeli policy in Gaza, he should do it in Tel Aviv and not in Turkey.

BobD said...

Of course, when British politicians criticise Israel in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories, there is even more uproar.

In 1998 Robin Cook visited the site of an illegal Israeli settlement in Occupied Jerusalem - the then (and now) Israeli prime minister cancelled a meeting with him as a result.