As opposed to the rather more exhaustively referenced piece on Assange and his road to a Butch Cassidy-style ending (Ricardo Platino can be his Sundance Kid, although I’m concerned about the efficacy of English truncheons over Spanish rifles), this one is more visceral. Not just visceral, mind you, more visceral. Thus I defend all oversights of fact and errors of interpretation.
This decision wasn’t at all based on the advice given after the previous article, suggesting that while it’s good to inform, it’s also good to let my readership finish an article without having to catch up on another twenty first. I’m learning. In all honesty, it’s rather more based on the fact that PMQ archives are dreadfully catalogued, and reading endless transcriptions of the speeches of the most asinine political class since time began was making me very sad. I couldn’t be bothered. My hope anyway is that this issue is a little closer to home for some of you and basically irrelevant to the rest. You’ll either know what I’m talking about or not, and if the former, will sympathise or disagree with me based on your existing feelings. This sense is wonderfully encapsulated by a Gary Younge article written pre-election. So before I finish providing my own reasoning for writing this being a waste of time… UK government.
Two and a half years ago I was elated. I might describe myself as a libertarian, which is basically to say I think taxes and government are generally irksome and I prefer to do what I want, when I want. But this conflicts with my other brain which informs me that social justice and equality of most description is incredibly important, and although we can debate the use of taxes and the competence of government in relation to these, it’s not like anyone else is trying very hard.
But two and a half years ago, New Labour had been trying for 13 years and thanks to an affluent upbringing that brought with it some preconceived political ideology, and a smattering of national and global financial catastrophe, I was only too happy to see Brown finally walking the lonely walk out of Downing Street. This emotion didn’t suffer for the short period of uncertainty during which the Con-Lib coalition formed and there was actually a fleeting possibility that Labour could wrangle back the election with some ungodly, mutant “rainbow” coalition of sorts. I would have very seriously burned Westminster to the ground, seeing that democracy as we knew it had died, but I was denied this public service by the marginally acceptable outcome that was.
Even then I wasn’t a complete fascist though, and won’t ignore some of the good things Labour achieved, such as the adoption of the “Third Way”, provision of the national minimum wage and limited aspects of their tax and benefits reforms. Sadly these scarcely served to diminish my increasingly rancorous disdain for Gordon Brown, his affinity for an older, Keynesian model and general denial of the fact that apart from those embodied by Dennis Skinner, I don’t think anyone wanted him. It didn’t help that I found him personally odious, and it would be a good time to mention that I do believe in statesmanship. It may not be the most elevated concept but who leads the nation speaks for the nation, and I’m not ashamed to say that I would have found his disagreeable policies more palatable had he an ounce more charisma to convince me.
And so in came the Tories, rather jubilant after so long in opposition and content for having expediently arranged victory. The mood was such that you would have thought the Lib Dems were a Tory Lite rump, both parties were so eager for a measure of power. I honestly and totally unrealistically imagined this was the start of a golden age of sensible management and sensible policy, that the coalition would only have the best effect of tempering the Tory right and the more leftwards leanings of the Liberals, resulting in a gloriously harmonious government leading the nation out of recession and into prosperity. It felt inevitable and I ate the Rose Garden scenes up and asked for more. Did India really want independence? Those waves have been looking so glumly unruled…
Oh alas, where to begin? This very question has delayed publication of this article as after only a short while of considering this and marshalling my evidence and subsequent thoughts, my head hurt far too much and I had to lie down. The sheer weight of farce has even forced my to redress the theme as more introductory, the beginning of a serial on the many ways Westminster sapped my faith in humanity. For now, for a start, I think we can find significant complaint simply within the failed or misleading manifesto commitments of both coalition parties and the truly shocking degree of incompetence in the cabinet.
Today we have no electoral reform and no parliamentary reform, but instead a host of reforms to the NHS that were not only excluded by the Tory’s promise not to heavily reorganise, but are at this point broadly a pariah. Instead of the Liberal promise to scrap tuition fees we have the most expensive university attendance in history and instead of bolstering younger levels of educational support we lost EMA’s. Compassionate conservatism evaporated in an instant with punishing welfare and public sector reforms in the same fiscal policy that scrapped the 50p and corporate tax rates. New Deal-esque infrastructural and construction projects have failed to materialise and Trident failed to disappear, but then Mitt Romney did tell me recently that the Russians are still our greatest existential threat and I sleep soundly at night knowing we prescribe to his brand of wisdom. And Pastygate… the malicious brainchild of a demented goblin creature.
On a policy level the situation is clearly poor at best, and gets little better on a personnel level. Before we could blink we said goodbye to David Lawes, a so-called treasury and policy wonk ousted on the back of his miscreant expenses. Andy Coulson later followed under a storm of questions regarding his stewardship of the News of the World, with added embarrassment for David Cameron having firmly stood by him. Liam Fox departed his rather sensitive Defence role thanks to allowing one Adam Werrity to tag along whenever he felt like it. The shadow of the Murdoch’s would later revisit and almost engulf both Vince Cable and Jeremy Hunt, the former for “declaring war” on the BSkyB bid and the latter being asked stern questions as to whether he enabled it.
Teresa May actually did go briefly to war with the Civil Service over matters of immigration, and Andrew Lansley with the entire medical profession for obvious reasons. Incredibly he was one of only a few cabinet ministers to take a real knock in the recent reshuffle. I despise reshuffles, such vapid and cynical posturing usually being the remit of a government running out of ideas. Throw in a touch of Oliver Letwin throwing government documents in a St. James Park bin, Francis Maude dangerously suggesting consumers stock up on petrol reserves during the strikes and Michael Gove’s attempts to reinstate Victorian-era educational methods and the cabinet looks to be in genuine disarray.
That’s before you even reach the big dogs. Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are walking a razor’s edge. Clegg has almost singularly absorbed every gram of ire generated by his support base and their dissatisfaction with the Liberal agenda being thwarted at most turns. Osborne has become the walking, talking vision of nasty Tory ethics and probably avoids dark alleys in the wake of the hardship suffered by many during this time of austerity. And all of this, from Lawes to Osborne, trickles up to the detriment of Cameron. If delaying this article’s release did any good, it allowed me to observe today’s piece in the Guardian, unveiling the first of possibly many brewing coups. That Bob Stewart was loyal enough not to play along is likely only a temporary reprieve from the Tory backbenchers.
Appointing Maria Miller to Culture Secretary was a telling symptom of Cameron’s increasing fear of reprisals for daring to be moderate. Her voting record on women’s and LGBT rights tells all but are probably short of the mark in terms of satisfying the hard right’s blood-lust for some genuine anti-EU or anti-immigration reform. And so with the old Tory party vying internally for supremacy and an increasingly dissatisfied and obstinate Liberal minority, the coalition itself also looks to be in serious danger. How I long for the Rose Garden again.
It’s astonishing how poorly this coalition have failed in their early aspirations. I fully accept that my initially high expectations were unrealistic and naïve but to have been proved so completely wrong still comes as a shock. But then I truly bought the message of a new compassionate Conservative party, free of the dead weight of the Zac Goldsmiths and Maria Millers of the world, that could effectively function with the Liberals. Their defence of globally hard economic times be damned, I could accept that the recovery was still not really taking off if it weren’t for the tonnage of political ineptitude that also smothered it.
The only thing that remains to be said for now is that if the coalition hadn’t so painfully mismanaged the message of it having been Labour’s initial responsibility, they could still rely on that fact to some extent. But two years of being asleep or drunk at the wheel, and spouting that line with a twinkle in the eye, has killed it. Now I actually do just about agree with Miliband the Younger, that two and half years on the buck does stop at the coalition’s door.
This is not to excuse the Labour Party from further criticism however. I’ve run out of time but next up will be a closer look at the quality of their opposition in context and with their time in government. If possible I shall try to be even more shallow in my deference. Watch out Balls.