David Laws, writing in the FT:
The coalition still has the potential to be one of the great reforming governments of the postwar era. The changes we are making in education, welfare and pensions are radical and right. The country will judge us over our full term and not on the basis of a turbulent few weeks of “here today, gone tomorrow” headlines. But after five years, we must show we have made the right decisions on the economy and got Britain back on track. That must be the coalition’s overriding obsession in the year ahead.
This whole piece takes a very positive, even bullish stance, on the Coalition government. And Law’s - the Liberal Democrat MP - is right at least about one thing: that it’ll be the whole five years that gets judged come the general election in 2015, not these awful few weeks the Coalition have been having.
It does seem crazy to me that so quickly into a five year plan, it is being decided that its not working. It’s as if people are surprised that making cuts really doesn’t feel good. Of course they don’t! This was always going to be an incredibly tough few years for the UK - regardless of who was in government.
I don’t think the government have been getting all the decisions right, but I do still broadly agree with their overarching plan of reducing public spending and getting control of the deficit. And we do need our public services to be run more efficiently if they’re to be sustainable. That said, the priority has to shift towards getting our economy growing again. The best way to overcome the mess we’re in economically is to have both decreasing costs and increasing growth. If it’s only the former, we’ll never get out of this mess.
The Coalition will be judged come 2015 on how it does on the growth front between now and then. The reduced public spending is known and certain. The growth isn’t. Get the economy growing again and Labour’s lead in the polls will evaporate very quickly whilst ever Ed Miliband is at the helm.
2015 is a long three years away. Whatever we may think of the Coalition, it’s far too early to write it off or think that the plan has failed. For better or worse, they’re going to stick with Plan A (whilst placing renewed emphasis on growth) and hope things turn around before the general election. Anyone who loves the UK will hope for that the plan does work. But, of course, it’s in the Labour Party’s interests that it doesn’t.
One of the accusations that gets thrown at the coalition government is that they are trying to do too much, too soon. This gets said about their approach to dealing with the deficit, but also more broadly to the reforms they’re pushing - ranging from health to education to policing.
So why would a government which, it could be argued, doesn’t have a particularly strong mandate take on so much all at the same time?
I wonder if one reason might be distraction. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the primary reason, but I wonder if it might be one piece in their thinking on the reforms.
If the government tried to focus on only one issue then it would be incredibly easy for the opposition to attack them. They’d just have one target and they could simply aim and keep firing. But with so many reforms going on, it is hard for the opposition to really focus and build any momentum.
As a result, the opposition is struggling to make a single issue truly stick in the minds of the public and it has made the government very slippery.
Of course, there are a few issues that have managed to truly break through from an opposition point of view. The government was essentially forced to abandon its forestry proposals. Similarly, it has had to at least ‘pause’ on the NHS. But ultimately, the government are proving hard to pin down and as a result, hard to oppose.
Perhaps this is one reason Labour are struggling in opposition. They should be miles ahead in the polls at this point, but they’re not. They don’t have a coherent message. And they don’t have many viable alternative policy proposals.
Might this be because they are being stretched and distracted by the sheer scale and breadth of reforms the coalition are trying to push through?
Obviously, a stronger, bolder leader than Ed Miliband would help but, that said, none of the shadow cabinet are shining particularly brightly at the moment either.
Regardless of whether we think the reforms are a good or a bad thing, there’s no doubt that this government is getting a lot done and is proving hard to oppose. This might be deliberate government strategy or it might just be weak opposition, but this government is definitely doing far more than most expected from a coalition.