Aggregated UK political opinion content, stakeholder research and policy consultations.
Rene Kinzett

100 days and counting!

August 18th, 2010 by René Kinzett

The nation celebrated today at the joyous news that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government had survived marked its first 100 days in office.

The first peacetime coalition government has come through an early Cabinet resignation; controversy over scrapping a pet project of the previous government; the intervention of the Sandal Brigade over “new” policy development and the question mark over whether the Deputy PM is “in charge” or “holding the fort” during the Cameron family’s fortnight on hols in Cornwall. All exciting stuff, but what do these last three and a bit months tell us about either the achievements of the Government or the future prospects for the Coalition?

Of course, the more observant will have noticed my deliberate mistake in the first sentence of the second paragraph. The Coalition Government is is not the first peacetime coalition administration on UK soil. The Scottish Parliamentary elections in 1999 and 2007 produced back-to-back Labour-Liberal Democrat governments and the National Assembly for Wales elections have resulted in “hung results” and there have either been minority Labour administrations or coalitions between Labour and the Liberal Democrats (2000 – 2003) or Labour and Plaid Cymru (2007, onwards). Each time during the period of a coalition, in both Cardiff and Edinburgh, the arrangements have lasted the course and seen the two parties through to the next set of elections. Indeed, the only times that administrations in Cardiff have looked week has been during the periods of Labour minority government. When Alun Michael was toppled as the first ever First Secretary of Wales, his successor Rhodri Morgan’s first act in office was to reach out to the Liberal Democrats to form a more stable administration until the next elections (and his second act was to change his job title to the more impressive “First Minister”).

In Scotland’s case, the incredibly stable arrangements between Labour the Liberal Democrats led to some interesting legislative reforms, including PR for local government elections and free personal care for the elderly. No matter what one may think of the shortcomings of the various measures enacted under that coalition, no one can doubt that it was a well managed and efficient operation, even in the face of some tough times and fierce criticism. It is only now, with a minority Scottish Nationalist Party Government in power in Holyrood that questions are being raised about the longer-term stability of an administration. As Jack Straw said today, it is perhaps preferable to be in opposition than scrabbling around for votes and with the ever-present fear of defeat hanging over you.

Given the experiences of our Welsh and Scottish cousins, what weight should be given to the soothsayers predicting calamity for the Coalition at Westminster?  I rather suspect that they will be proved wrong. The signs of unity within the Coalition are clearly visible and appear to be very strong indeed. There is a unity of purpose, aided by the Coalition Agreement, which gives a clear agenda for the Government. The memorandum issued by Cameron and Clegg the other week also shows that the number one concern facing the Coalition – the size of the budget deficit – is being pursued with vigour and in real partnership. The spirit of unity within the Coalition is also helped by a palpable “bond of trust” between the Prime Minister and his Deputy. Much nonsense can be written (and frequently is) about the Cameron-Clegg axis, from the psycho-babble of the Sunday supplements (all the “we’re all Clegerons now” lifestyle article rubbish) to the loud alcohol-fuelled rants of former high-fliers with a fixation on homo-erotica. But its not all pure Polly Filler drivel or Pub Landlord bile, there are serious criticisms of the Coalition, from both left and right, that we (who care for its future) need to take on board.

The right are concerned about the future direction of the Conservative Party, that “traditional” values are being drowned out by a soggy liberalism and that Ministers are weak-minded pawns of the all powerful cult of the Cleggeron. I find the criticisms from these quarters as, frankly, a bit rich. One only needs to look at the experiences of the left of the Party during the worst excesses of the Thatcherite purges to see how an all-powerful leadership can effectively silence and sideline a whole wing of a party. Ask our friend Jerry Hayes for a first-hand account from one who remained a vocal and popular exponent of an alternative vision of conservatism during Thatcher’s reign.

I also want to reassure the right that they really have nothing to fear from Cameron and Coalition. For what we are witnessing is nothing less than the strange rebirth of liberal conservative England (with apologies to George Dangerfield) and the Conservative Party returning to its traditional place as the champion of moderate, considered and pragmatic polices. Championing evidence-based policy making over policy-based evidence making. Dealing with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. Treating all communities equally, with tolerance and respect. Governing in the interests of the nation, not the Party. Indeed, it is the mix of election winning strategies from Disraeli, through Baldwin and Churchill, from Macmillan to Major. Even Thatcher, who the right hold up as their patron saint, would be on the modernising wing of the Party if she was now a young politician on the rise. For her legacy, although objectionable to some, was a product of its time and she a creature of her surroundings. Transplant the young Maggie to today’s scenario and you would not get a hair’s breadth between her and Cameron or, dare I say it, even Clegg.  The rejection of ideology, the embracing of pragmatism and the rethinking of traditional One Nation values through the Big Society theme are all part of Cameron’s agenda to take the Conservatives back to the future and to firmly re-establish ourselves as the natural party of government.

The rolling back of the Surveillance State (as big an enemy today as the excesses of the Welfare State tackled by Thatcher), the triumph of liberty over suspicion and the reawakening of a spirit of responsibility and inter-dependency are all, for my money, the most exciting things to come out of this Coalition thus far. From scrapping ID cards, getting rid of the National Identity Register, abolishing the “ContactPoint” child database and even the outlawing of the clamping of cars on private land are welcome early initiatives from the Coalition. The revolution in terms of school organisation with the introduction of Free Schools, bringing real choice and diversity of provision into every community (in England only, sadly), is to be much celebrated by those that matter: parents and children and opposed by the vested interests of the teaching unions, and Labour (and possibly even Tory or LibDem) local government barons. Ken Clarke’s sensible hand on the tiller as Lord High Chancellor will ensure a more just and equitable administration of justice that we’ve seen from a hoard of reactionary and populist Labourites. NHS reforms, led by the eminently fair-minded Andrew Lansley will replace bureaucratic mess with simple, streamlined administration of our health service and put it back in the hands of doctors and patients. Clegg himself has been given the task of dragging our creaking constitution into the 21st Century, renewing trust between the governed and the government, establishing a more democratic Upper House, offering the voters the chance to chose a new electoral system and handing back powers from Whitehall to town and shire halls.

I was also interviewed on BBC Radio Wales “Good Morning Wales” programme at the ungodly hour of just gone 6am, so for those not wide-eyed enough at that time of the day, or else don’t have ready access to the delights of the public service broadcaster for Wales, please feast your ears on this  and listen in from 8min 10sec.

As much as I am, obviously, greatly impressed with the clear purpose, conduct and future prospects of the Coalition, I do feel that there is most definitely a role for the progressive wing of the Conservative Party to keep a watch on developments, especially as we head towards the spending review announcements planned for the autumn. Organisations such as the Tory Reform Group (for which I serve as Deputy Chair in Wales) will need to keep a close eye on the effects of cuts in public spending on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. At the very start of this Coalition and during the election campaign, Cameron pledged that it would be those with the “broadest shoulders” who would bear the brunt of the cuts and that the very poorest would be protected from the worst effects. Policies such as limiting public sector pay freezes to those who earn over £21,000 are laudable, but it won’t be until sometime into next year that much of the impact of spending decisions will be felt. It will then be for the Tory Reform Group and others to be less the Cameron Cheerleading Team and more critical friend, watching out for the poor, the sick and the old. Ensuring that our guiding principles remain in tact and that the Coalition stays the course until the general election of 2015.

The Coalition has some real challenges to face. Next year’s referendum on electoral reform; the elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly; the legislative battle over equalising constituency sizes; and the reforms to the calling of general elections through Commons votes of no confidence, all offer early and serious pitfalls. However, if the same degree of common purpose and commitment to the national interest remains as strong, there can be little to doubt that this Coalition will stay the course and really change Britain for good.

Four health managers good, two managers better

July 13th, 2010 by René Kinzett

I am wondering if the current dynamic between Government and Opposition is a welcome return to an ideological, or at least an aggressively partisan, struggle in British politics. From schools shake up to plans to scrap a whole tier of bureaucracy in the NHS, the Coalition is set on a course of much needed reform, whilst the Labour Party seek to defend provider interest and the protection of managerial posts (huge numbers of which were created by the previous government), dressed up as concern for patients, pupils and parents.

Whilst Tony Blair sought to reform the public sector and try to embed the “what works, works” mantra across government between 1997 and 2007, it is now received wisdom that Brown was conducting a stalwart defence of the old bureaucratic top-down, provider-knows-best model of delivery. After two and half years of Brown at the helm of Downing Street, the effects of his ideological position on both the state of public services and the health of the Labour Party have now become clearly apparent.

The “shadow cabinet” (the sad and sorry looking bunch of failed secretaries of state who were given the Order of the Boot by the electorate in May, serving out this interregnum until Labour can chose its new leader in the autumn) have had nothing positive to offer in terms of policies and seek to oppose the coalition from a position of moral indignation, a healthy dollop of collective amnesia and good old fashioned socialist concern for Labour Party Members working in the public sector. The shadows forget, or try to forget, the two and a bit years of Brown in residence at Number 10 and seek to blame the rest of the world for Britain’s fiscal crisis. When Burnham says that plans to cut NHS bureaucracy make him want to “weep”, frankly it makes me want to vomit when I think about the profligate and selfish nature of a government headed by a PM who once revelled in the “Iron Chancellor” myth.

The NHS reforms outlined by Andew Lansley yesterday are an excellent case in point. The health budget is a “ring-fenced” area as agreed by the Coalition, but that is not to say that savings can be found in the hugely bureacratic delivery model, savings which can then be poured back into frontline services. For me, that is the essence of the White Paper – doing more for less. Indeed, this is the same motto used by the Minister for Health in the Welsh Assembly Government in a newspaper article for the Western Mail yesterday.

However, as in the rest of the country, the NHS in Wales is bloated, cumbersome and unresponsive to the needs of its patients. That is not to say that the care offered by nursing staff, doctors and consultants is not in most cases exemplary, rather it is the model of delivery and the explosion in managers at every grade which is at fault. The Royal College of Nursing has identified that NHS Wales currently spends more than £65 million on management across bands 8 and 9, but just £31 million is spent on nursing staff in the same band. To spend £34 million more on managers than on nurses by a health service provider is obviously unsustainable.

The plans to allow by 2013 500 GP consortia to spend £80 billion on the NHS across England and scrapping the Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts all seem an excellent idea to create a modern and responsive health care service, free from the worst aspects of the monolithic NHS. When Labour ideologues proclaim that they “Love the NHS”, they are really saying that they are wedded to the organisation, not to what it delivers. I am comfortable in allowing doctors, nurses, consultants and surgeons to get together and plan the healthcare services for their communities. I am happy to see hospitals set up as independent corporations, in the same way that universities are run, free and independent from political interference and stultifying bureaucracy.

The proposals from the coalition on the future of health care in England show an inspired plan for excellence and localism. The huge disappointment for me is that it will not be introduced in Wales for so long as we have a Labour Government in power at Cardiff Bay more interested in jobs for the boyos than the health care of the nation.

Tags [ , , , ]

Categories [ NHS, Politics ]

Comments [ 0 ]

Leave your comment

The first cuts….

June 22nd, 2010 by René Kinzett

The short period of time between the General Election and now has been littered with “watersheds” and “political landmarks and today’s Budget has given us yet another “historic moment”. However, the now almost familiar sight of the LibDem Leader sharing the Front Bench with Cameron and Osborne makes one wonder when the Labour Party will themselves grow bored of screaming “but you are sitting with the TOOOORIES” at the Liberal Democrats.

Sadly, about the only consistent theme of opposition from the Opposition to today’s Budget has been just that – a tired and rather tiresome attack that seems to rely on the fact that the LibDems MPs don’t actually know that they are in coalition with the Conservatives and that if only Labour MPs can shout loudly enough and go on about it enough then the poor hapless dears will wake up, see a Tory and run for the hills.

Another tactic employed by Labour MPs today was the “but we’re nicer than them” argument, a wheeze designed to get under the skin of the leftist elements of the LibDems. This involved a parade of Labourites slamming the Conservatives’ record in govenrment (ummmm….I’m trying to remember back then, too….) and then rather unconvincingly painting a picture of the Utopian landscape of the toppled Labour Government. The vetran LibDem MP Malcolm Bruce did try telling Labour MPs that they had 13 years to put through progressive and radical budgets but instead chose, in 1997, to give the rich the largest single Capital Gains cut than any previous government.

Now that everyone knows that Brown and Darling cooked the books prior to the election in terms of fiddling the growth figures, the arguments against making public spending cuts and adjusting taxation now seem even more hollow and knee-jerk than before. A public sector pay freeze, an end to middle-class benefits and a war on waste in government spending are all welcome developments, as is the rise in Capital Gains Tax (something which I called for before the Budget), a banking levy (again something I supported and was much derided for by some fellow Conservatives) and the gradual increases in the income threshold for the lower-rate tax band.

The VAT increase from 17.5% to 20% has, of course, been seized upon by the ghosts of the old regime as an outrageous attack on the poor and destitute. VAT has always caused political rows and, of course, a tax on goods and services paid by everyone at the same flat rate regardless of income does not strike one immediately as a “good thing”. David Cameron himself, before the election, attacked VAT as a regressive tax and the LibDems said that they would not be looking to raise the current rate of 17.5%, but stealthily avoided making that a policy commitment. Given the state of public finances and the other options for income tax changes and other fiscal measures, the VAT rise of 2.5% seems like the lesser of several evils to me.

What strikes me about the Budget process as a whole is the collegiate and rather consensual way that the Coalition Government is working, not just internally but also in its outward-facing relations. Businesses, trades unions, local government, charities and other groups have been engaged with and will continue to be engaged with by a Government that not only commanded the majority of the support of the electorate at the last election, but which, by its very nature, must govern in the wider national interest as opposed to narrow sectional interests.

Unavoidably, there has been much talk and “analysis” (made up round the table at lunchtime by lazy journos) of splits and “challenges” for the Coalition at the time of its first Budget, but the LibDems and Conservatives are serious political parties, both want to be able to offer the nation a better future and to improve the prospects for our economy, jobs and society. This project, unlike others built on the shifting sands of focus groups and media headlines, will stay the course.

Tags [ , , ]

Categories [ Politics ]

Comments [ 3 ]

Leave your comment