I have recently criticised a number of initiatives by the Coalition, so it does no harm to recall that it’s doing some things – though not everything – right. Let’s look at a quick scorecard:
Fiscal Policy: Cameron and Osborne are quite right to see cutting the deficit, and restoring international market confidence in Britain’s public finances, as the number one priority. And they’ve done well. The imperative now is that they stick to their guns. They will be challenged over and over again, most immediately by the students who are demanding money with menaces.
Welfare: Iain Duncan Smith is doing a fantastic job in dismantling Gordon Brown’s “client state” apparatus, and ensuring that work pays and that we don’t incentivise idleness. As Simon Heffer has said “We have an underclass because we have decided to pay for one”. We must stop paying, and I think that the Coalition’s approach here is excellent. Again, it will take determination to see it through.
Education: Michael Gove is a hero. Despite a couple of early gaffes, he is essentially right, and he could revolutionise education in this country, ensure that virtually all schools are good schools, and get Britain back up in the league tables. But he will of course face massive opposition, from civil servants, from local councils, from the teaching unions. He deserves our support.
Local government: Eric Pickles is reintroducing some bluff common sense. And about time too.
Housing: Grant Schapps’ approach to social housing is excellent and long overdue. I’d like to see him go further, and extend the test of need to current incumbents, subject to a reasonable notice period to recognise incumbency.
Defence: Here the good news runs out. Liam Fox is an excellent man, and a champion of the Transatlantic Alliance. But he has been comprehensively bowled over by the Treasury. It cannot be right to decommission the Ark Royal, and our Harriers, when we have nothing for a decade to replace them with – and while we continue to shovel money down the black hole of “International Development”.
Health: There are some questions over Lansley’s plans for the NHS – not over objectives, but over the practical problems of driving through another massive round of change, while maintaining the effectiveness of the service and the confidence of the public. I wish him well. But as I have written at length elsewhere, I am sick to death of his intrusive public health initiatives. We expect a Conservative-led government to get off our backs, and stop interfering in every aspect of our lives. He calls it nudging, but I’m having trouble distinguishing it from Labour’s Nannying.
Justice: I recognise the financial constraints that Ken Clarke is under. But he should not pretend that “Community Sentencing” is a meaningful punishment or deterrent. Assurances that it can be improved lack credibility, as do esoteric arguments about whether or not prison is a deterrent, or can deliver rehabilitation. The one thing which prison unquestionably achieves is to keep robbers and muggers and burglars off the streets. Michael Howard was right. Prison works.
Energy and Climate: Again I have written about this at length elsewhere. But in summary, our current plans will destroy our industrial competitiveness; will drive a million families into fuel poverty; will beggar our grandchildren; and will deliver electricity shortages and blackouts in a few short years. We need to get rid of Chris Huhne, and make a clear commitment to coal, gas and nuclear.
Europe: Here we come to the biggest failure of all. William Hague has done a complete U-turn. He may not talk like a Europhile, but he is behaving like one. Cameron has failed to use Merkel’s desire for a new treaty as a bargaining chip. We have acquiesced in each new piece of Euro-folly that has come up since the May election. The proposed “Referendum Lock” legislation is so futile and transparently useless that it’s embarrassing and indefensible. If Britain’s problem with the EU is ever to be solved, it seems more likely to be done by the disintegration of the euro, and the EU, under its own internal inconsistencies (as happened in the USSR) rather than through any decisive action by a British government.
Having waited my entire political career for a Conservative-led government, I am profoundly disappointed, and disappointed most of all on the two issues closest to my heart: Europe and climate.