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.
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.