Reshuffle takes UK closer to America, not in a good way, and misses the point of London 2012
Posted on 5 September 2012 | 8:09am
I woke up this morning to an avalanche of tweets in response to my asking on the way home from Stratford last night why the US, so dominant in Olympic sport, appear to be so relatively marginal in the Paralympics.
It is never possible to predict what will get a big reaction on twitter, but this did, and if I were to distil the answers, the general view from both sides of the Atlantic was that the absence of an NHS style healthcare system, poor welfare and poor appreciation of its importance, a governing philosophy that puts the individual ahead of the community, media attitudes that value mythical perfect looks, sponsors who do not want to be associated with impairment, and the paltry coverage of Parlaympic sport are among the main factors.
And then I thought … every single move in yesterday’s reshuffle is moving Britain in that direction. Rightward on health with the ludicrous appointment of Jeremy Hunt, who shouldn’t be in the Cabinet at all, and one of whose last acts as Culture Secretary was to try to remove the NHS section from Danny Boyle’s 2012 opening ceremony. Rightward on justice with Chris Grayling as far removed as it is possible to be in the same party from Ken Clarke’s decent-minded approach to issues of crime and punishment, and the need to understand we need a new approach on prisons. Rightward on the environment and Europe with Owen Patterson whose appointment will have thrilled the climate change deniers and the ‘all European legislation is bad’ brigade. Rightward at BIS with Michael Fallon in there to spy on Vince Cable and keep him off the telly. Rightward at transport with Patrick McLoughlin there to do whatever Mr Cameron tells him to.
As for DCMS – what a mess, and what a mass of wasted opportunities. There is not even a token Lib Dem (remember them) to check Maria Miller, who has been a poor disabilities minister and now takes on her new job with sport, equalities and disability effectively downgraded by lumping them all in under culture.
I bumped into sports minister Hugh Robertson last night – he still hadn’t heard if he was still in the job – and asked him why Cameron had not even considered making sport a fully fledged Cabinet post to build on the amazing success of recent weeks. I like Mr Robertson, think he has done a good job on the Olympics, he is a loyal minister and said nothing to undermine his leader. But my sense was that it was not even remotely on the agenda. A huge wasted opportunity.
Never mind inspire a generation. With their austerity obsession, their failure to tackle youth unemployment, their attacks on the poor, their undermining of the NHS, their cuts to universities and the things that help disadvantaged kids get there, their failure to face up to climate change, this is a government seemingly determined to lay a generation to waste.
I like a lot about the US. But I really dislike the right wing belief that universal healthcare is communist, climate change is a plot against business, everyone should stand on their own two feet (not easy if you don’t have any), abroad is bad, all tax is bad, prisons are good provided the conditions are dire, and all that jazz Fox News pump out day after day.
I loved the Olympics and if anything I love the Paralympics even more. Yesterday I saw massive queues to watch blind men play football; a packed stadium watch disabled women from Sweden and Australia hurl a ball at each other; a wheelchair tennis match as skilful and exciting as anything I have ever seen at Wimbledon; a man with no arms swimming faster than most of us could even dream of swimming; and of course David Weir careering round the track with the force and power that only great athleticism and human endeavour can bring. And I really do wonder if any other country in the world would have so many of its citizens clamouring to be part of it.
The government has missed the point of these Games, and missed the moment. The reshuffle takes the country backwards not forwards. It takes us closer to the America we don’t like and away from the America we do like.
And all because Mr Cameron does not have a clear strategy for the country, so focused on a strategy for his Party of throwing a few bones to the Right.
I’ll be channel hopping between the Paralympics and, with PMQs back today, the politics. Between sporting giants and Mr Cameron’s new team of political pygmies.