The Blairite permanent revolution

11 January 2011

I find myself asking the question again. Why did the Coalition decide to cut and reform
at the same time? In terms of raw electoral politics it cannot be explained. If Cameron and Clegg had come to power promising not to tinker further with the health service and the education system,
but simply to manage the cuts they would have had a much easier ride. Welfare reform is a different matter – popular in principle but devilishly difficult when it comes to the detail.

Matthew d’Ancona captures the scale of change well in his Sunday Telegraph "">column:

‘At breakneck pace, the Coalition has set in place blueprints for fiscal recovery, a welfare revolution, dramatic schools reform, a structural overhaul of the NHS, a transformation of the
higher education system, a bonfire of the quangos, and radical devolution to councils and communities. The next four years will be consumed by the slow, painful enactment of these strategies. Not
all of them will bear fruit before the next election – or in some cases, ever. But the overall framework is sound.’

Up until the very last sentence I was with him. Even Matthew can’t possibly know whether this is sound. Such reform is always based on instinct and guesswork.

So far the picture is mixed at best. The handling of the schools reforms, the tuition fee rise and the quango cull has not been impressive. Whatever the wisdom of these reforms, it looks like the
decisions have been driven by ideology rather than necessity. Nobody loves a quango, but its is frankly embarrassing to be told by a Tory-led select committee that the cuts in this area have been
chaotic and ill-advised.

The public would be forgiven for being sceptical at this stage. If potentially popular quango reform is so badly managed, what will happen when it really matters, as with welfare reform.

It remains a mystery why the government chose not to be more conservative and chose instead the path of permanent Blairite revolution.

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  • rndtechnologies786

    Good think.

  • Publius

    Stewart writes: “I would rather governments changed things because they needed changing…” etc.

    — This rather begs the question, doesn’t it?

  • Stewart

    Richard, I would rather governments changed things because they needed changing rather than changing them purely for ideological reasons. I do agree with you though that the coalition are right to act immediately. Firstly because many things need puting right after Labour’s malaise and secondly because of the political situation they find themselves in. Governments generally decline in popularity over time and this government is one of the most fragile we’ve had for some time. It is being pulled from both directions. To the right by Conservative back benchers, to the left by the liberal democrats who are not enjoying ministerial office and are likely to lose their seats at the next election. Currently the effect is that these pressures are holding the government in the middle but any number of events could upset the balance and lead to the loss of a vote. The government has to act now before Labour gets its act together and one half of the government’s own political spectrum is emboldened to stand up to the ministers.

  • Archibald

    In answer to your question Martin, they have decided to cut an reform at the same time so that they save money in the short term but can also aim to improve services and efficiency in what is time and again being revealed to be an utter shambles of a public sector. It’s a monumental task, but better that than leave a shambolic status quo.

  • Publius

    Why did my earlier post here not appear?

    As I said before, ideology versus necessity is a false dichotomy. Where is the place for wisdom and wise decisions in either?

  • Richard Manns

    Many, many issues with this:

    Firstly, the Blairite “revolution” was successful because it didn’t change anything. This was a government that lept to power on the promise of not changing fiscal policy from their predecessors, you will recall.

    Secondly, I’d really rather governments changed things out of ideology, rather than necessity; ideology is “a systematic scheme of ideas” whereas necessity is when you have no choice.

    Thirdly, what other time is there? It should have been obvious from the quick actions of Thatcher (switching to monetarism) and the lack of such from Labour that inertia will quickly bog down any problem of change.

    If you want change, you do it now. Leave it for later, and the momentum is lost. Blair rues that mistake in his memoirs; do you?

  • Simon Stephenson

    Perhaps, Mr Bright, you are at heart a process-driven individual, rather than one who is outcome-driven. There is a huge difference. Labour 1997-2010 was extremely process-driven. Scattergun policy brought in to deal with specific problems, and the unwanted outcomes of these policies either ignored, or addressed as wholly new problems, and not as consequences of previous decisions.

    Other people are much more outcome-driven, where the implications of policy are considered much more in terms of totality of outcome, rather than merely the efficiency with which it deals with the headline problem.

    Perhaps the decision-making of the Conservative element of the Coalition, at least, is just more outcome-led than is that of the Labour party that you support.

  • normanc

    I thought the criticism of the quango reform was that although the quango’s themselves went their functions were simply slid off sideways to other departments so there was no real saving?

    As for the rest:

    fiscal recovery – well, you’d kind of hope they’d do that, wouldn’t you?

    welfare revolution – Labour proposed much of the same things pre-election. Doesn’t mean both parties are right, but does show reform is desperately needed

    dramatic schools reform – continuation of Blairite policy, tinkered with to change who can apply

    NHS – that one did come out of left field. I feel a more fundamental reform i.e. breaking up the leviathan, would bear more fruit, but we’ll wait and see

    HES – I haven’t heard anything about this

    Bonfire of quangos – see above, simply shuffling deckchairs

    Eric Pickles – two thumbs up there, he is giving things a badly needed shake up

    I also agree with your last sentence, Cameron is proving himself every day more and more the heir to Blair.

    I wonder if he has the great man on speed dial?

  • Timac

    I couldn’t disagree more.

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