Something is different at the heart of our democracy. It’s something we’ve not seen in governments before, at least not in this country.
It’s bold, to say the least. It’s unbelievably brave. It shows a willingness to face criticism, to have a discussion, to listen. It’s new! It is, perhaps, the epitome of the “New Politics”. It is the essence of what was forged in that rose garden two years ago. A portrait of a Government, working together to get stuff right.
It is the Coalition Government looking to the future, together.
And then, upon consultation, poor polling and Ed Miliband winning a PMQs, it is the Coalition Government issuing a clarification that the future to which they had been looking towards was in fact in the opposite direction to which it may have appeared.
It’s the u-turns. Skip tax, charity tax cap, pasty tax, granny flat tax – and that’s just the past month or so. There’s been thirty-four in total. Thirty-four! Thirty four times the Government has had an idea that they’ve thought through enough to want to present to the world as a thing that they want to do and then changed their mind after a shower of abuse. Government ministers have been bravely listening to what they’ve done horribly wrong and then boldly admitting they hadn’t thought it through at all.
“You turn if you want to,” to half quote Thatcher, and that’s just what they’ve done. To half quote Thatcher is fitting for this Government. They are half of Thatcher’s Tories. All the bad politics and none of the competence.
It was Mrs T who, with that famous turn of phrase (pun not initially intended, but now left there intentionally), first gave us the idea that to backtrack on a policy was weak. This is not particularly helpful. Sometimes people do need to change their minds on things in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence. I often make snap judgements on things and then have to defend them even when it becomes clear that I am wrong. For years I had to pretend I didn’t like Arcade Fire because I once told lots of people at a party that I didn’t like them because someone wearing a Muse t-shirt said that they did like them. It was a snap judgement I had to make and, although I maintain that disliking things that people who like Muse like as a principle works as a rule of thumb, I have had to accept this is not a universal truth. U-turns are not inherently a bad thing. An admission of fault is not a weakness.
However, it’s hard to get away from the fact that Cameron’s Tories (and most backtracks seem to be by Tory ministers) have made thirty-four u-turns in two years. You can’t spin that as listening to the electorate or taking on various consultations. If you’ve done something majorly wrong in your job thirty-four times in the past two years, you are doing it wrong.
These ministers have been brave at doing what they’ve done: attempting to run the country when you’re incapable of doing so is a very brave thing to do.