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Does the coalition know what it’s doing?

26 March 2011

3:39 PM

26 March 2011

3:39 PM

On the morning of the March for the Alternative, a friend alerted me to the brilliantly angry Andrew Lansley rap (chorus: “the NHS is not for sale you grey-haired manky tosser”). Admittedly not the most sophisticated political polemic, but as agit-pop goes, pretty effective.

Andrew Lansley’s health reforms are fast become a deep embarrassment to the government. The Liberal Democrats hate them. The country is suspicious. Nobody quite understands how David Cameron took his eye so spectacularly off the ball on this one and now he is left with a policy nobody wants.

I have always been mystified that the coalition decided to reform and cut at the same time. While there may be a logic to getting potentially unpopular legislation through in the first years of a new government, this only makes sense if you are convinced by the reforms. Very few people appear to be genuinely convinced by what Andrew Lansley is doing.

I have been prepared to be agnostic about the Coalition’s reform agenda. As sold, it is the ideological continuation of the Blairite “What Works” philosophy. But I am becoming increasingly sceptical. There is a growing suspicion that the government simply does not know what it is doing. The whiff of incompetence is beginning to grow.

Cameron’s determination to devolve decision making to the departments is now looking increasingly reckless.

Today’s demonstration coincides with polling that suggests that a significant proportion of the population remains behind the government’s cuts. Ed Miliband is still failing to take advantage of the coalition’s discomfort. But there is now an equally significant and far more vocal section of the population which is not. The young, in particular, are beginning to despise the coalition. This month the Future Jobs Fund comes to an end, giving young people yet another reason to hate the government. As yet, Iain Duncan Smith (another minister given free rein to reform by Cameron) has failed to convince with his plans for the Single Work Programme. Indeed, does anyone outside the world of “Welfare to Work” even know what it is?

The attraction of coalition politics was that it appeared, for a while, to put an end to the knee-jerk sectarianism of two-party politics. The irony is that the consensus politics of the coalition is proving increasingly divisive.

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