The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘coalition government’

Pointless Consultation

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 3, 2010 @ 09:08

Shamlessly stolen from

Everyone likes the idea of “consultation”, and the new coalition government seems to like it just as much as the last Labour one.

But if anyone expected the new government’s “consultation” process to have a different outcome to the last one, then they are either hopelessly naive, or terminally stupid.

OK, maybe I’m overreacting, but this time it’s sort of justified. After all, the government simply created a rod for its own back by opening up a consultation on its own programme for government. A programme that had been negotiated down to the placement of dots on the i’s between the two parties. A programme that both leaders believed they could sell to their own party, and then to the country.

So why consult on it?

Consultation should, obviously, only be used when the government is genuinely open to the prospect of new ideas. Conversely, there is no point consulting if you have no intention of listening. Indeed, to consult in such situations actually makes future genuine consultations much harder. It just increases cynicism and makes people thoroughly fed up of a government that appears not to be listening.

All so very simple. All so very Politics 101.

So why did this happen then?

I’ve been reading all the responses from each department on the coalition government’s programme. Apparently 9,500 comments got published, amongst which some posters will have posted several times. Which means even less actual people engaging.

But on top of that, the responses from the departments were pointless in the extreme. They responded to the ones they liked, by saying things like “It was encouraging to see that the most popular themes you welcomed are being taken forward in the programme for government.” (source) How marvellous for everyone! The government believes exactly what you believe! Bravo.

Then, where there was disagreement, they “noted” it, and continued with a restatement of their policy. This one from the Education Department is typical: “Firstly, we have noted your concerns about the introduction of free schools.” Then, following it, is a whole paragraph which ignores these concerns and explains the policy, as if people’s disagreement is as a result of misunderstanding. That, too, was also a very Labour thing to do.

But like I said, what really was the point of this exercise? It will come as no shock to anyone that the government would stand firm to its carefully negotiated programme. So why suffer the inevitable bad publicity? Assuming anyone is paying attention in the first place…

What hope for the Spending Challenge, then?


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Will The Great Repeal Bill Really Be Great?

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 28, 2010 @ 21:49

Well, I can see a few that definitely won't be happening...

There is much interest over the idea of the Coalition’s “Freedom Bill”, particularly over what might be in it. They even launched a website asking people for their ideas, though maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. After all, only cranks inhabit the internet.

But, from a political hack’s perspective, the interesting part is whether this whole idea comes together in the end.

What makes a Bill like the Freedom Bill so difficult is that it could potentially contain hundreds of different ideas. Bills of this nature are loathed by governments and whips alike because it makes it extremely difficult to get the message across not just to the country, but to the MPs themselves. Everyone might well have their pet project in there, but if they dislike something else which another MP likes, it soon becomes a nightmare to work out who is for the package and who is against it.

You can bet your life that Labour will oppose the Freedom Bill. After all, most of it will be their legislation and regulations for the chop. Still, one would expect a smooth passage this early in the coalition’s lifespan. But what goes on behind the scenes in the meantime will be fascinating.

It will invoke a level of horse-trading never before seen in Parliament. Never before (and probably never again) will such a disparate group of concepts be brought together under one piece of legislation. It will be easy for an MP to say he/she won’t support until their idea gets recognised, because the Bill will contain hundreds of others, and surely one little extra one won’t hurt anyone?

But maybe it will. Maybe adding it will piss off a group of other MPs. And to keep them on board, they might want their own little addition. Or removal. Setting off another group of “rebels”. Oh, what fun!

The Government Whips Office will indeed be working overtime. Their great spreadsheets of which MPs are gettable, and which are beyond hope, along with a running vote tally, might be exciting for us nerds.

Or maybe the whole idea just won’t survive after all. Surely it will be just too difficult to get a majority to unite over hundreds of these different ideas? That’s assuming the coalition’s formal discussion process can even agree on a list in the first place.

Maybe it will end up being far more modest than we hoped. A small removal of some of the most odious rules and regulations that the governing parties can unite behind as the worst examples of Labour’s illiberalism.

Ahh, grasshopper. Maybe that’s why it’s not called the Great Repeal Bill any more…

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The Forgemasters Debacle

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 27, 2010 @ 09:47

It's all very macho, but it always reminds me of that Simpsons episode. You know which one...

The more this issue is examined, the more I feel the coalition acted in haste, and now are repenting at leisure.

Think about it. Your first couple of days on the job. All that new power going to your head. An anger at the growing realisation of just how bad the government books are. Knowledge that Labour were spending shedloads of cash with no real idea if the bond markets were going to keep buying government debt. A growing realisation that maybe one or two Labour pet projects had been quickly shuffled through because they knew their time in office was drawing to a close.

And you spot this £80m loan to a British company that is doing very well already, thank you very much.

Faced with a target of £6bn to cut from this year’s spending, it was a no brainer. £80m is not much, but it’s better than nothing. Cut the damn thing. Next decision please.

But as everyone knows, things are never that simple. And even less so in politics.

After all, when you still have Vince Cable, who has responsibility for the banks, telling everyone that he’s going to look into ways to punish the banks if they don’t start lending to businesses, you really are sending out a very mixed message. If the banks are unwilling to lend, is it perhaps not a surprise that Forgemasters had to ask the government?

Meanwhile, while we’re being told that we just didn’t have £80m to spend, there is a new 1bn pot of cash, as David Willetts referred to on Newsnight last night, for “regional development”. Huh?

Oh, and there is £1.7bn for nonsense NHS reorganisation. And, presumably, money being held to finance yesterday’s changes to “democratise” the police service.

So the coalition government tried to make up other excuses, the best of which was the idea that the owners didn’t want to dilute their own investments. An excuse which has no apparent proof to it. Hmm.

It gets worse. Did the involvement of a Tory donor have any impact on the decision? Probably not, but it still looks bad. As I said, nothing is ever simple, and these coincidences are inevitable, and invariably make a government look a little sleazy. It will happen to even the whitest of white governments.

Then the continuing influence of Peter Mandelson. Sure, we shouldn’t pay much attention to him, but as a smooth operator, little stunts like this yesterday, and continued assertions that the loan was a good deal, good value for money, going to help the local economy, and would actually turn the taxpayer a profit, just put the top hat on the fiasco.

But when in a hole, keep digging. Politics does that to you. Even when you know you are in the wrong, the loss of face by admitting that, yes, this is a deep hole, and no, I do not have a way to get out of it, so would you mind awfully throwing that rope down, thanks very much, is just too much for a politician to bear.

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Naughty Nick Clegg

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 26, 2010 @ 09:47

Hague definitely seemed to enjoy it...

I re-watched last Wednesday’s PMQs over the weekend, especially the bit towards the end of the exchanges with Jack Straw. My main reason for doing so was to try to establish whether it was pre-planned, thought up while in the heat of the battle, or genuinely off-the-cuff thinking on his feet.

It’s my opinion that it was probably one of the first two. Nick is very precise. He sets it up well with the preceding thought about being held to account, and then delivers the punch line. It is slow, executed well, and therefore feels a little planned. He certainly doesn’t look flustered or under pressure. He looks like he had been waiting for the final question all along so he could say it with no come backs.

That degree of execution would seem to exclude it being a genuinely spontaneous remark. But who blames him? Knowing you’re coming up against such an old fraud as Jack Straw, a sly devil who’s spent his Labour career slithering in the grass, changing his mind from one day to another depending on which side is winning, and taking him on face-to-face for probably the first and only time, why miss the opportunity to stick one on him?

In reality though, it doesn’t really matter when it was thought up. It’s turned out well, and sticking by it rather than toadying away like Cabinet ministers who speak their mind usually have to do is very refreshing, and will only help us as a party if we can have a handful of similar incidents in the future.

What also gives me confidence is the giveaway reaction from the Tory front bench. William Hague and George Osborne’s instant facial reactions are priceless and suggest they didn’t know it was coming. Hague looks like he’s saying, “Shit!” in his head, while Osborne is calculating what the right response is and ends up looking rather amused. Sadly, we don’t see why he starts pointing at the other side. Watch for yourself.

We need to see a few more little “blunders” like this, just pushing the envelope of collective responsibility every now and again. The Tories need to be kept on their toes that we are going to keep pressing for what we believe in, and we’re going to feel brave enough to go public with our point of view from time to time. The tactic will work even better when we have a carefully crafted alternative policy which we know has public support. One for Lib Dem HQ to mull over, I think.

It’s the only way we’re going to stay distinctive amidst the coalition morass.

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The Strains Of Collective Government

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 22, 2010 @ 11:43

Pointing the finger, the cheeky bugger...

Watching last yesterday’s PMQs last night I was struck by the way Nick Clegg was behaving. He was straining hard to stick to the line of collective government, as is required by the constitutional conventions of this country.

And let me just add, they are sensible conventions, and are even more essential in a coalition. After all, Nick Clegg, just because it was his moment at the despatch box, couldn’t exactly go off on one about his own personal priorities and reverse carefully crafted government policy as agreed by various coalition committees on an ongoing basis.

But then again, why shouldn’t he? After all, as Paul Waugh has pointed out, other members of the government and the coalition parties feel free to go off the beaten track just a little.

So Cleggy did indeed decide to join them.

In truth, I don’t blame him. Faced by the appalling Jack Straw, who delivered a truly awful PMQs performance, something must have stirred in Nick Clegg. You could see his level of frustration rising in each subsequent answer. But not just that, a rather passionate anger at Labour’s record.

Jack Straw, during the Iraq War debacle, became something of a poster child for Labour’s pre-war prevarication, dithering, moveable justifications, legalese argument, ludicrous over-analysis and pretentious fake morality. Clearly, Nick Clegg had been paying attention during that time, and also to Jack Straw’s past and present illiberalism as a member of the government.

On his final trip to answer another Straw “question”, Nick just couldn’t resist

We may have to wait for his memoirs, but perhaps one day he will account for his role in the most disastrous decision of all: the illegal invasion of Iraq.

Well! That really did set the cat amongst the pigeons. So much for collective responsibility. The Tories next to him winced. The House murmured. Did he really just say that?

To those of us who opposed the Iraq War from day one, it was a truly joyous moment. Nick Clegg, from the government benches, standing at the despatch box, calling the Iraq War for what it was.

Sadly though, it was just a slip, and the press office immediately issued a clarification that he was “speaking in a personal capacity”. You can bet your bottom dollar that never again will a government member call the Iraq War illegal in full, in public, and very much on the permanent record.

But it was still fun to watch, and though collective responsibility is a source of exasperation to many – “why can’t they just say what they believe?” – its overall use is more of a positive than a negative, especially in a media age where every little slip is scrutinised to the nth degree.

Still, good on you, Nick!

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Will Lib Dems Get The (Tax) Credit?

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 5, 2010 @ 10:22

"Thanks, Obama!" said the US electorate. Not.

I know we’re not America, but across the pond there is something that maybe we should pay attention to.

The stereotypical image of America is that taxes are lower than they are in Europe. I believe that is still very much the case. And last year, they went even lower. Democrats, foolishly in my view, agreed to include masses of tax cuts in the stimulus programme in order to secure a smidgen of Republican votes in the Senate.

And yet… has any of it made any difference to the prospects for the Democrats?

Of course not. Electorates are notoriously ungrateful. You give ’em something, and then they say: “I want more”.

Despite US taxes being their lowest for 50 years…

A Gallup Poll last month found that 48% thought taxes were “too high” and 45% thought they were “about right.”

The Democrats are, at the moment, on course for some pretty big losses this November. Some speculate they could lose control of the House, and several Senators. Sure, the US economy is still in grave difficulty, with its inability to create jobs at the moment, but you would have thought the electorate would at least give the Democrats some credit for the record low taxation?

Apparently not.

And that’s the worrying part. Expectations on government are generally so high, and opinions of it so low, that when they actually do anything for the people they get nothing but continued flak anyway.

The trend could be even worse in Britain. The Lib Dems right now appear to have gotten the blame for the VAT busting Budget. How else do we explain the party’s slump in the polls? Meanwhile, the Tories are riding high at over 40%. What credit there is to be given out seems to have gone in their direction. Isn’t that a bit… unfair?

When the next election comes, and the rises in the tax allowance are a mere memory, who do you think will get the credit? Will the electorate actually even factor it into how they’re going to vote, given the American experience?

The way we seem to be getting the raw end of this coalition deal from the voters doesn’t fill me with hope that implementing our core policy from the last election is going to get us the rewards we arguably deserve.

People are just too cynical.

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Protecting The “Frontline”?

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 29, 2010 @ 09:30

This kind of "front line" removes parasitic fleas and ticks from the system. How... ironic.

In recent times we’ve been told that cuts would be “compassionate” – if that even means anything. The idea behind it being that cuts would be very careful, and avoid damaging the front-line.

Then the government unveiled its Spending Challenge, hoping to crowd-source ideas for saving money by asking six million public sector workers who “work on the frontline” (quote from the Spending Challenge website).

Putting that in the context of the Budget, which estimated cuts of 25% will be needed in each unprotected department, there’s something not adding up here.

From what I know, the Spending Challenge has gone out to a large number of people who we very definitely would not consider to be working on “the frontline” of public services. They are administrators, or other back-office support staff. When Joe Public thinks of the term “front line” in the context of the public sector, they probably mean doctors, nurses, teachers, maybe social workers, etc…

With that in mind, the coalition government can’t have it both ways. It is fantasy politics to pretend that these 6m public sector workers being consulted are not going to be affected. Yet that is what’s happening. After all, those compassionate cuts are going to avoid the “front line”. And David Cameron and Nick Clegg have called them all “front line”.

More likely then, they are engaging in a rather amusing exercise of self-destruction. They are asking the public sector workers to think of ways they can make themselves obsolete. Clever.

The real problem, as ever, is politicians not being able to say what they really want to say. Without a doubt they want to tell millions of public sector workers that their jobs no longer exist, but they probably want to win the next election, after all.

So, instead, they’ll craftily redefine what it means by “the frontline” when it suits them. You can be sure when the 25% cuts bite, and redundancies are announced (which they will be), we will be told that our government at least has protected the jobs “on the frontline”, and these are the sacrifices we will have to make if we want to keep teachers and police officers in their jobs.

Yes, people are going to be asked to commit hara-kiri for the sake of our betters. Even though, in June 2010, those people laying down their jobs were very probably being asked by David Cameron and Nick Clegg to share their most radical thoughts. Because they, on the “frontline”, had the best vantage point to see what was going wrong.

Politics, eh.

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A Budget With Balls

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 25, 2010 @ 09:32

The battered old Budget box keeps on going...

No, not the Ed kind of Balls – though more on him tomorrow – but the other kind.

Though the Budget has annoyed me in more ways than one, it has been very interesting, and very good, for another reason.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this post imploring the government to just get on with it as far as cuts are concerned. At the time, I was fed up with the pussy-footing around, the idea that maybe cuts were going to be quick, or slow, and might exclude certain things too politically sensitive.

In the end, I got exactly what I wished for, and for that I am actually quite pleased.

The reason I am happy about this is simple. Politics doesn’t seem to be about anything these days; the three parties are increasingly close to each other. But this Budget really will set the cat amongst the pigeons. Labour, whoever their new leader is, are drawing a very clear line in the sand. They are, naturally, going to stand up for their record in power, and are going to snipe from the sidelines, but will be ready to say, “I told you so” if the worst predictions for this Budget do happen.

That is good. It feels like there is a real division between the coalition government and the Opposition, and that’s because, at last, there actually is. So many times politics is all about an imaginary distance between the two parties. So many times we have to suffer the tedium of centrist politicians fighting between themselves to out manoeuvre each other.

Naturally, I am under no illusion that Labour would also have been making cuts. But there is a stark difference between the parties. One is for cutting all the deficit within the next five years. The other had made half of that ambition. One is taking its ideological belief in a small state right to its logical conclusion. The other would have reluctantly made cuts, but only out of fiscal necessity, on a small and slower time scale in order to protect the state apparatus they genuine believe in.

OK, maybe when it’s put like that I might be exaggerating just how exciting this apparently yawning gap between the parties is. But in today’s catch-all politics, we have to be grateful for small mercies.

The coalition will either live by the cuts, or it’ll die by the cuts. Its whole reputation has been staked on this gamble.

As a person, I am deeply worried that we’re heading down the wrong path.

But as a political observer, the coalition government is the gift that keeps on giving.

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It’s The Changes That Worry Me

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 22, 2010 @ 17:02

Don't we look stupid now?

Today’s Budget has… irritated me. Just a little.

I don’t buy any of this rubbish that the Coalition are spinning: “it’s worse than we thought”.

Frankly, it can’t possibly be worse than they thought, considering the budget deficit is smaller than Labour had predicted, by almost £20bn compared to Labour’s first estimate.

Meanwhile, inflation is stubbornly high. Inflation, disastrous in large quantities, but very helpful in the short term it stays above target. And hiking up VAT is only going to add more to inflation. A crafty way to inflate away the debt, perhaps? All on the Q. T. – you understand.

No. “Worse than we thought” is spin, pure and simple. It’s a way to say “Not me guv!” all the while delivering the ideological love for cuts that is becoming apparent.

So if we ignore this spin, what other explanations could stand up?

The current Lib Dem line, which is being used as an excuse to tear up the manifesto, and make us a total laughing stock considering we stuck it to the Tories thusly, is that the “crisis” in Europe has made us reverse our whole economic doctrine. Yes, Vince Cable really has gone from centre-left neo-Keynesian to Thatcherite neo-liberalism. Or maybe it was just the Bank of England that persuaded him.

Never mind the voters. Never mind everything you told them, promised them and went all round the country trying to convince them of. Never mind your own principles either. There are others, after all.

It just doesn’t stack up to me. Look at the kind of thing Vince Cable was writing last year. And yes, events have changed. But after going through the most turbulent period in our economy’s history since the 1920s and 30s, can anyone claim with a straight face, like Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg do, that the last month in Europe has been even more dramatic that we’ve had to change almost everything we stood for?

It is an insult to people’s intelligence to pretend otherwise. Government has meant we’ve had to close down major chunks of our manifesto, which have been sold out to ensure the coalition’s agenda.

It’s grist to the mill of the opposition, naturally. After all, haven’t they been crowing since the dawn of time that you “cannot trust the Liberals/Lib Dems”? Say one thing in opposition, do another in power. We’ve only gone and proved it.

There was no mandate for a VAT rise. Everyone said they weren’t planning one. The Lib Dems even tried to make political capital out of it. Now, tainted by this decision, we will never hear the end of it.

More Budgety fun tomorrow, perhaps…

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Posted by The Futility Monster on June 21, 2010 @ 09:49


The coalition is clearly making hay while the sun is still shining regarding all these external appointments.

First it was leftie economist Will Hutton, asked to head an investigation into closing the pay gap between the top and the bottom.

Then it was Frank Field, asked to investigate welfare.

Now it’s John Hutton, who’s going to lead a review into public sector pensions. And no stone will be left unturned, given his previous reputation.

Add into that the fact that the government is already a coalition, and you can see why John Prescott is getting very angry.

If I was Labour, I don’t think I’d be getting angry though. I’d be absolutely terrified.

Terrified because if this Big Tent, centrist mushiness works, in the sense that it delivers the goods for a sufficient proportion of the voting electorate, and those same voters are happy with it, it could be disastrous for the Labour Party.

Previous attempts at a hegemonic centrist government have been tried by both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. But, inevitably, they were doomed to failure because, in both their cases, they were eventually backed off from it because of the opposition within their own parties, and the nature of their leadership styles.

This time, however, where we have two parties mutually dependent on each other for survival, the tent is the biggest it could possibly be, commanding the largest combined share of the vote for a British government since Gladstone in 1868.

On top of all that, it’s faced with an economic challenge the size of which the country has not faced in decades. And that kind of thing has an amazing ability to bring people together for the “common good”.

It seems a lot of Labour people are being drawn into that. John Hutton was no rebel, but he was always an honest minister. A thorn in the side for the Brownites. So too Frank Field, who has bided his time on the backbenches, and sees this maybe as his own last chance to influence government. In spite of being on the other side of the House.

In short, everyone wants a piece of it. A chance to bask in the reflected glory of the first piece of true consensus politics the British government has experienced in generations. A chance to revel in the Coalition’s honeymoon, which is showing evidence of continuing in spite of the minor slip-ups and scandals we’ve had so far, and massive expectations management regarding the huge amount of cuts on the way.

Yes. If I was Labour I’d be starting to worry just how long this is going to go on for, and whether it’s representing a public desire to see the end of the bitter partisan hackery portrayed so beautifully by Prezza, and his nasty accusations of “collaboration”.

Don’t think that lengthy leadership election timetable looks such a good idea now…

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