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To boldly go – to success or oblivion

Posted on 15 October 2010 | 8:10am

Time to take a step back and have a look at the government’s overall strategy.

Boldness is an important factor in strategy and in leadership. David Cameron and Nick Clegg both showed themselves capable of it in forming the coalition. Yes, it is possible to say that is the only way they could get their hands on power, but it was bold, it required both of them, and they did it. And as I said at a Labour fund-raiser in Telford last night, I don’t think the coalition will collapse any time soon.

Clegg would like it to hold it together for as long as possible because without the prop of government, the purpose of his party would appear to be very limited; added to which though he may be the junior partner, he is going to take a disproportionate pounding when the cuts and u-turns and broken promises translate into real impact on people’s lives.

Cameron would like the coalition to hang together for most of this Parliament too, with a possible fracture towards the end as the economy, hopefully, improves.

The economy is the key to all of this. It is virtually impossible to look at any page of any serious paper without the economic and public spending situation being part of the story. In today’s press cuts to quangoes, cuts to frontline policing, cuts to councils leading to a rise in payments for services, cuts to science and research, the row over cuts in child benefit and a rise in tuition fees rumbling on … on and on it goes, and today the media full of Hillary Clinton’s warning about UK defence cuts, which if they are implemented will not do much for the Special Relationship the Tories are supposed to have in their DNA, Churchill, Maggie, dadidah.

I am about to head to Liverpool for a conference of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy who say that even before the big public spending announcement next week, their frontline servives are being hit within the NHS. You hear it everywhere you go in the public sector, and in the private sector too, where their work depends in part on public sector contracts.

So cuts, cuts and more cuts, and that usually means political pain. But the Tory strategy is this – exaggerate the likelihood of the pain, and do something just short of what was expected; always blame Labour, no matter how facile and yet-to-be-accepted that argument may be; shrink the state (because that is what they believe in) and when, as is likely for all sorts of international factors, the economy picks up, take as much of the credit as possible and say it was all down to the cuts.

Nobody can deny it has a certain boldness to it, and if Cameron and Osborne manage to stand up  to the political pressures that come with it, the boldness may pay off in four years’ time. But what it overlooks is the genuine damage to equality of opportunity and access to services that their approach will herald. And I am not sure that Nick Clegg’s fund for disadvantaged children will quite cover the cracks that the Cameron-Osborne cuts are opening.

Either way, the decisions being made in Whitehall now will reverberate for the rest of this Parliament and beyond.

  • Blakedw

    I don’t think they overlook the damage to equality of opportunity and access to services. They just don’t care about it because it will not hurt the people who are important to the. If more state school pupils are put off applying to Oxbridge by high fees, that means more places for pupils from Eton and Westminster.

  • Richard

    Your big state, central conrol freakery failed. It failed, get over it. You and GB were thrown out.
    “17 years of Tory misrule”, you chanted in the nineties, and the public bought in to New Labour.
    Now they have caught on to you, and we hear nothing from you about where Labour would cut. You would halve the debt in 5 years. We would be paying astronomic interest rates.
    “.. is likely for all sorts of international factors, the economy picks up…” Forget double dip then. Tune changing again eh?

  • Olli Issakainen

    I just checked some statistics from the CIA World Factbook 2010.
    Public debt/GDP was 68.10% in Britain. In Germany it was 72.10%. In France 77.50%. In Greece 113.40%, and in Italy 115.20%. Not bad for Britain!
    Messrs Cameron and Osborne are putting out this fake story that it is all Labour´s fault for political reasons. They are themselves deniers of the global economic crisis caused by banks. And the Tories, of course, supported Labour´s macroeconomic policy till the end of 2008!
    My educated guess is that the coalition will collapse in 2012 due to the failure of its economic policy. I do not believe that the economy is going to improve much – if at all. My view is that if we continue with neoliberalism it will get worse.
    Spending cuts are not same thing as reducing the deficit. Cutting too much and too fast can increase the deficit. And will the private sector be able to compensate for the public sector job losses? No, it will not in these conditions.

    • Janete

      Good points Olli. It’s interesting how often an examination of the facts and statistics completely expose Tory untruths and flawed arguments.

  • James

    Great post as always Alastair. I do wonder just how long the Condemnation will hold together though.

    Vince Disabled looks like a man on the edge, and Nick Smeg is so far apart from the mainstream in his ‘party’ that he is starting to defy gravity.

    Once Smeg loses his overly precious vote on AV in May, the coalition will hold very little for the real Lib Dems. They then might see their sycophantic leader on nothing more than a one-man ego trip.

    Ed ‘the Cred’ Miliband is also starting to do the business and real hope is retruning to the Labour Party. I’m almost getting excited.

  • Teresa

    I think the policies of the Labour Government were starting to make a difference to social mobility, I feel through my own personal experience that the shift was starting to happen because of their investment in schools, if only they had been given more time, but sadly I feel this Government are going to destroy the progress that has been made. My son is now at University an opportunity I never had, it was never even considered an option in the school I went to, actually it was unheard of in my area at that time for anyone to go to University.Labour were making a difference to things that really do matter, their investment was putting the opportunities in place, now I feel all the hard work is going to be undone.

  • s chapman

    zzzzzzzz… it again my friend
    ‘IF’ the crisis was caused by banks as you say – why were they allowed to get away with it for so long? Why did Labour let Fred Goodwin walk with a pension forever of £600k per year…why was lending in the North-East at Northern Rock so reckless??
    My Finnish friend is it your ‘guess’ that the UK economic policy will fail in 2012 or your hope? By the way we don’t live in France or Germany or Italy and debts left unchecked or swept under the carpet like the New Labour debt deniers are trying to do, leads to a Greece style collapse…crippling borrowing rates…
    And whats “equal ” about public sector pensions/jobs being so untouchable vs a private sector woken up to the crisis and getting on with it…..and why not support the Coalition in its efforts to rid us of the waste in the Govt machine…oh yea I forgot you live in Finland

  • Sarah-dodds

    What needs to be remembered is that it is all about people. Real people who will suffer greatly. If the Labour party won’t tell their stories then no-one will. Vulnerable children who will not get care from social services. Whole communities who will not have police community support. It’s the kids I teach who will no longer get the special needs support they once had or should expect. It’s the youth services for kids and it’s care for people with mental health issues and those with disabilities. It’s anyone who so greatly relies on the NHS. And then there is the stress and the emotional anxiety of those of us whose jobs hang in the balance – it’s gut wrenching, truly gut wrenching.
    So despite the focus of the media, it’s not about middle class child benefit. So much heartache will be inflicted. And for what end? For the sake of right wing politically driven dogma dressed as economic neccesity. While it is true that the deficit reduction is crucial, is that now the only means by which we can measure success? Does not our care for the vulnerable and fulufilling the aspirations of the many count?

    If I had a vine that needed prunning I would rather it be done by the gardeners who had tended and nourished it, those who would prune it with it’s future stregnth and growth at their heart. The last thing I do is call in a mob with an aversion for grapes.

  • Sarah-dodds

    Who exactly did it fail? Those who did not die on NHS waiting lists? Those who have been educated in new schools? Maybe the thousands more who have been to university then? Or the kids who have enjoyed free nursery education?
    Need I go on?

  • NickSmeggHead

    I read on the BBC website that universities to face £3.2b cut (79%) and further £1b cut from research. This is exactly the wrong thing to do at a time when we are trying to move away from an over-reliance on finance industry. The future of this country and Europe lies in knowledge industry and not in manufacturing. We cannot compete against likes of China and India in manufacturing. Even German manufacturing base will decline in another 20 years time.

  • Gillian C.

    Another good and interesting blog AC. I find myself mostly in agreement with the other comments this blog has generated. I cannot offer statistics to help prove my point of view, but I strongly believe that when the economic crisis hit in 2007 we i.e. the Labour Government could and should have been in a much stronger financial position to withstand what was happening. I didn’t have the (dubious) benefit of a university education, but I did work in the financial sector and if I and many others like me could see this coming from a mile off, then why couldn’t the so called experts? Or, did Gorden Brown simply choose to ignore advice. I’ll never forgive GB for selling the Nation’s gold at a knock down price. I’ve consistently voted Labour since I was old enough to vote. But, if the ConDems turn the economy around, even though there will be a high price to pay for this, socially speaking, I will find it difficult to vote Labour again. My trust is gone.

  • Janete

    The current political climate seems very strange to me. In many respects it feels like we are still in the midst of the election campaign. Government spokesmen appear every day, to announce some (heavily trailed) policy or other, only to stop short of giving any thought through, properly researched detail of how it will be implemented or what the impact will be. Cameron couldn’t say how many single earner families will be affected by the Child Benefit cut. Frances Maude didn’t know how many jobs will be lost or how much (if anything) will be saved by the ‘bonfire of the quangos’. We don’t know important details about tuition fees or how the pupil premium is to be implemented or paid for, despite Cleggy’s attempts today to convince us what a good idea it is. It all has a pre-election ‘we’ve yet to work out the details’ feel to it. Either they really don’t know where they’re going with some of these ideas, or they’d rather not say. Perhaps they are hoping the public will be taken in by positive stories of Government action to sort out the country’s ills, but won’t notice the oh so important details slipped into the morass of information to be released next week.

  • Roadriverrail

    wakey, wakey, big boy!
    1) Labour went into the election with a halve the defecit in 4 years strategy. That was only 5 months ago – how’s your attention span?

    2) Labour’s new leader has been in place for about ten seconds. You don’t finalise a grand strategy quickly, unless you’re an idiot.

    oh, and

    3) You’re in power: we all sit back and comment on what YOU’RE doing – you don’t get – legitimately – to sit back and criticise us for we WOULD do now. So you can take your opinion on Darling’s DeReduct-growth strategy and show it, because it ain’t relevant.


  • Janete

    I agree that it is all about the effect on real people. About 11 years ago we took our son to play a Rugby League game in what was once a thriving mining area, before. All the visitors travelling with the team were totally shocked by what we found (our team is based in Salford so we don’t shock easily). The housing stock was completely neglected. There was glass and rubbish everywhere, broken windows and burnt out cars. As parents we were alarmed at the prospects for children growing up in such a deprived environment.

    This summer we returned with the team to find a completely revived community. Good quality housing had been built around a modern community/Sure Start centre. There were grass and all weather pitches for formal sports activities, a safe enclosed play area for small children, a cafe and rooms for hire for private functions. The atmosphere around the place was completely different. This is the difference Labour and big government makes for real people.

    Those who defend the ‘small state’ ideology of the Tories mustn’t have experience of communities like this, probably because they have enough private means to take care of themselves well away from the ‘have nots’. Or maybe they just don’t care as long as it doesn’t affect them.

  • Bar Bar of Oz

    Cameron was being very Tony Blair when he offered the Lib Dems a full and comprehensive coalition and Nick Clegg was being very Tony Blair when he accepted it.

    Now Labor, in response, is supporting a “Yes” vote in the AV referendum – completion of Blair’s vision back in 1997. Pity they didn’t during the election campaign.

    Personally I always thought after first debate showed Nick Clegg was going to be a potent force that Gordon should have spent the second two debates attacking Cameron and taking the lead of a progressive alliance to keep the Tories out. I think that’s what TB would have done in similar circumstances, but instead Gordon triangulated.

    Ah well, GB never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity did he?

  • a woodlander

    Wouldn’t it be nice if Gospel Oak Labour party could show the new coalition that trust and political honesty is still possible? We are being told that the GO Labour party have no choice but to go ahead with the so-called ‘regeneration’ of the Lismore Circus/Gospel Oak area. But it’s a smokescreen. New funding plans for councils to be self-funding alleviate the urgency of the housing situation. The political and economic philosophy behind the change to self-funding (Council Housing: a real future), is to enable better long-term planning and community involvement. Sadly, instead of genuine improvement, Camden is pushing ahead with regeneration plans, which will lead to what looks like planned total demolition of the area, clearance (elegantly called ‘decanting’) of the existing population, resulting in a shock doubling of the population density in the area (now at 90 people per hectare, planned to rise to 200 pph under new plans). As a neighbour and also as someone who cares about the integrity and trustworthiness of the Labour party, I urge you to stand up and help us in Gospel Oak fight against the proposed demolition of just short of 15 hectares of land and putting at risk just under 1,500 homes. There are many many people in Gospel Oak who love their neighbourhood, who actively volunteer in the area, such as those who work so hard every weekend to tend, maintain and enhance the Lismore Circus Community Woods that was started in 1998 by Mary Barnes and Michael Palin. We urge you! Please get involved and help us fight this threat of social displacement for so many hard working people! (A cynic would say housing benefit cuts will surely move some of the most unruly elements out – without the need for demolition and doubling of the population density!) Come on Alastair – get in touch with GO Labour, with Frank Dobson and others, and fight for your Gospel Oak neighbourhood!

  • Roadriverrail


    The Condems “turning the economy around” – let’s think about this.

    So, they rip the heart out of the public sector, inevitably slashing demand in the economy for goods and services in the process. This should add a million unemployed on top of the million firmly predicted from public sector job losses. This ‘deficit reduction strategy’ is going to create a vacuum (bye-bye huge swathe of public sector) into which the private sector is going to ride like the cavalry and create masses of job as economic growth recovers to a healthy level (say, 3%). This is their publically stated belief.

    Apart from the ideologue right, all economists are going, ‘what planet are these ****ing peope on?’ Never mind a university education, you only need about a term’s worth of economics A level to suss that indeed, Osborne has swallowed heaven only knows what fantasy-land pseudo-theoretical garbage from some US academic or text book written in about 1910. The response to it is not fanciful ‘leftie’ dreaming, even Ken Clarke has been picking out a pair of brown trousers for the Chancellor.

    So in about a year’s time, when the shit, economically and socially, is really hitting the fan (unless the Condem(ned) announce massive u-turns when unemployment hits 3.5 mill and is still rising, bankrupcies are sky high and when we’ve been in recession for 3 quarters and not getting out of it any time soon, stack that lot against GB selling some gold and review the issue of which party peg you want to hang your trust jacket on.

    If miraculously Cameron is still power (though naturally, he won’t be), then any recovery will have damn all to do with them. I was sickened by Heseltine on Newsnight last week when he claimed that the economy was in fantastic shape in 1997 for TB to inherit. He of course banks on no one but four geeks in the audience remembering that the recovery of 1993-7 was an export-led one on the back of a broken lift drop in interest rates to about 3% from 15% after the markets chucked Tory’s pie in the sky (over) valuation of the pound out of the ERM. The low interest rates also encouraged consumers to start spending some dough again which also lifted levels of demand and thereby economic growth.

    As for your point about Labour not having prepared financially for the banking collapse: baling out the banks isn’t even a once-in-a-lifetime thing, it’s rarer than that. What did it cost – someone here please tell me – AC, you’ll know – was it 40 billion or something? You can only borrow the money to do such drastic things when it happens: you can’t keep a contingency fund of that size hanging around. Rather, GB should immediately begun to extricate himself and the Labour Party out the mess by announcing that the cost was going to be paid back, every penny, by the bankers torched billions of pounds on the back of no other motive but gluttonous greed. If we as a party have something to be ashamed of it’s that True it is our fault for not regulating the system, but even so, we should not have let UK plc pick up the tab. And it is hideous hypocrisy of the Coalition to be claiming that these cuts are ‘all Labour’s fault.’ Every Tory knows that had they won the election of 2005 exactly the same thing would have happened. Indeed, Cameron et al were calling for less regulation. The Tory party’s proclivity for shameless lying, their lack of self-awareness, their shamelessness, was breathtaking under Thatcher and Major, and it is that and more now.

    As for no experts seeing it coming, that lass at the Financial Times did and so did Will Hutton. I’m sure there were others too. Hutton, by the way, was constantly jeered at by City folk and the Tories for his Guardian/Observer stuff warning of catastrophe being only a matter of time.