So now I am a blogger. What possessed me to join the zillions of people who already parade their thoughts before the world through this magnificent electronic media?
Well let me start with a promise. This will be a serious blog! Well usually anyway! No thoughts about what I have had for breakfast, the state of my finances, football, soaps or quiz shows. Instead some reflections on life in UK politics from the perspective of a working politician. I also thought it would be useful to give some thoughts on the coalition from someone who is close enough to the action to see it at first hand but not important enough so that important people take offence at what I say. So it will be what I really, really think folks and not what someone wants me to say!
So let me start with that topic. I was discussing this recently with a group of people in France. They were amazed at two things:
- That it was so long since there had been a coalition in the UK and;
- That it was stitched up so quickly.
I wasn’t surprised at this because of the secret that all 3 parties keep from the public – and that is that we actually agree on about 70% of the way forward at any time with each other and that we agree a further 15% with one of the other Parties. So that at most any two Parties are disagreeing with the third on 15% of the agenda.
Of course it does not appear like that. In Parliament votes are broadly for or against the Government which means that under the old system two opposition Parties might vote against different parts of the Bill for different reasons but it simply appears as a vote against. It also does not seem so obvious when you look at press reports. “Everyone in Liverpool council voted for a new strategy for the elderly” is not much of a story for a media where good news is bad news because it generates no public interest and bad news is good news because it gives a good story.
In fact I have often described my role at the Local Government Association as being a leader of the national party of local government opposing a national party of central government based in Parliament. At the LGA we agree with each other 95% of the time. All 4 Parties (there is a none-aligned group as well) take on what are still the centralists of parliament and Whitehall in all 3 major parties.
In this context I really like a lot of what the coalition is doing:
- It is working better with more openness, honesty and transparency than a one party state
- It is abolishing a lot of the quangos and layers of government that have bedevilled effective service delivery
- It is reducing by a massive amount the number of regulations, rules and targets that the Whitehall warriors have imposed on us for so long
- Public Health is being returned to local government where it really belongs
All well and good but it is making policy mistakes at the same time:
- The way that the BSF problem and the Academies Bill were presented were dreadful and showed woeful lack of experience
- The idea of having elected police commissioners is a nonsense which will be deeply damaging to the police service itself
- DCLG is still promoting things that will allow them to meddle in the minutiae of council activity whilst proclaiming localism, localism, localism.
So at the moment I am content although I await with some trepidation the Comprehensive Spending Review which comes out in October. Even there we have managed to get local government involved with the process centrally for the first time. Following a meeting that Margaret Eaton and I had with Danny Alexander two council chief executives have been placed on the ‘star chamber’ making recommendations about the review.
So my report card for the end of the first 100 days of the coalition
10/10 for effort
9/10 for openness and transparency
8/10 for consistency
5/10 for presentation
A good start but could do better in getting key messages across!