Friday, April 20, 2012

Will incompetence, rather than policy differences, scupper the Coalition?

That might seem like an odd question to ask, given the level of tension between elements of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats at the moment, but it is becoming apparent that many of the travails experienced by the Government come down to questions of competence and judgement.

Theresa May and Abu Qatada, George Osborne and charities, David Cameron and Europe, Eric Pickles and... well, just about everything, really, all of these are signs of an administration without a coherent plan. And, whilst it might seem discourteous to point it out, most of the competence issues seem to arise from Conservative ministers.

And most of those errors stem from a desire to win debates and achieve fleeting popularity, rather than actually achieving long term improvements in the way the country is run.

So, whilst Theresa May sought a positive headline in her announcements about Abu Qatada, and was then made to look rather ridiculous, had she waited until he was safely on a Royal Jordanian flight to Amman, she could have safely claimed an achievement. But politics overtook good government, and the results were deservedly disastrous.

And what harm would have been done by showing some restraint? He was still in prison, and no risk to the public.

George Osborne's budget was, from the perspective of Liberal Democrats, a pretty good one. The increase in the personal allowance, the positive steps to attack aggressive tax avoidance (and yes, I'm only too aware that it isn't actually illegal), both stemmed from established, and well-tested Party policy.

And yet, it is now increasingly overshadowed by talk of charities, pasties and grannies. Using the rather evasive cover of 'tax simplification', he successfully gave the impression of having something to hide, and has been fairly convincingly battered ever since. Again, he allowed the politics to overcome good governance, and is paying the price.

But before one gets too smug, a word that I've learned a bit about this week, it isn't the case that all is running smoothly at the Liberal Democrat end of the Coalition either. Whilst one cannot claim that some of our people have gone out of their way to court popularity, fleeting or otherwise, we're still struggling in terms of governance strategy.

In terms of converting policy into statute and practice, I think that we've done quite well, and it's hard to think of a big issue that a responsible Liberal Democrat minister has got wrong, as opposed to issues covered by collective responsibility - and I do think that we've got some of those quite badly wrong. But competence appears, for the most part, to be safe to assume.

But a lack of competence steadily undermines a government, and encourages the sort of infighting we're now seeing in Conservative ranks. The right-wing clearly don't believe that "we're all in it together", and, given that after competence, unity is a highly valued attribute by voters, it's going to take some real leadership by David Cameron to steady the listing vessel.

And this offers Liberal Democrats in government an opportunity. If solid delivery comes back into fashion, and I would argue that it should, anyone with a well-argued, solid policy, should seize the chance to get it implemented. Luckily, we have already demonstrated that we've got a few of those... 


Keira said...

Call me wind because I am blown away by your post!

Geoff Taylor said...

Osborne's lack of growth,Lansley & Gove riding roughshod through the coalition agreement.