Recently I have been starting to wonder what the point of this government carrying on is. We are now less than a year away from a general election. An election, which if the opinion polls are to be believed, Labour will lose and lose badly. The Prime Minister, along with every other senior and junior government minister are unlikely to be in post on 14th July 2010.
It is through this prism that I am now starting to view government announcements. The nature of government is such that when measures are announced, that is just the starting point. There will often be reviews and various other activities before the proposals finally get put before the Houses of Parliament and eventually end up on the statute book.
Some, perhaps many of the measures announced now will not see the light of day this side of the next election. If they ever do get implemented it will be because the next government wants them to be. Labour may leave some nasty traps as it seems to be trying to do in some areas (its economic policy seems to be drawn from the Scorched Earth Handbook) but with application, the next government will be able to unpick most of it. Much activity between now and next June will be a waste of time.
I recall a story I heard about Michael Heseltine in the run up to the 1997 election had a meeting with Tony Blair where he urged Blair if (when) he became PM to continue with the Millennium Dome project. There was obviously no point talking to John Major or his cabinet colleagues. The power was shifting inexorably to Blair and the same thing is starting to happen now with Cameron.
There is also a second problem with much of what this government announces and it is a problem with all long serving governments. I remember it happening with John Major’s administration in the 1990s. It is that every measure announced will be met with the question “What have you been doing for the last 12 years?” It actually makes the government very wary of doing anything too radical as it then calls into question their actions over the previous decade which of course they do not want.
Here is an example. Today, Andy Burnham announced a review of how the elderly pay for their care. Irrespective of the whys and wherefores of the particular proposal this quote leapt out at me when I heard it:
For too long politicians have avoided this issue. We have an opportunity to grasp the nettle and confront the debate. If we fail to do that we face the prospect of a diminishing quality of care being provided.
The first thing I thought was, yes but you've been in for 12 years so why has it taken you until now to do anything about it? All policy announcements suffer from this syndrome now.
These issues combine to make it very difficult for the government to achieve anything. If they were governing in the proper interests of the country they would recognise this and do something about it, change the leadership and get rid of the worst PM in my living memory and then call an election so at least there would be a fresh mandate to properly get on with stuff. Of course this won't happen because they aren't governing in the interests of the people. They are a self-interested clique who don't care that their policy pronouncements are just so much hot air.
It is we, the public who suffer most from this Lame Duck Government Syndrome.