|Too much too soon?|
The Coalition’s reforms on a menagerie of policy areas may leave it prey to attack.
Across the Atlantic there is often a certain amount of jealously towards the British incumbent’s power to legislate and turn policy ideas into real reform. The White House is often found lamenting the partisan divide in congress and the political deadlock caused by a powerful opposition and its ability to deter government plans in the senate.
This aspect of Britain’s political system is often seen as highly valuable, allowing the government of the day to shape policy in line with the mandate voted for by the people; yet the downside to this seemingly stream line system and the upside to Washington’s comparatively slow and cumbersome system is that policy needs to go through more lines of approval thus preventing excessive reform and political change, a landmark of any democracy and a necessary curtail on executive power.
The co-alition government appears to be fighting on too many fronts. Major upheavals in education, the NHS and now voting reform,- all of which individually would seem substantial for any one government to undertake in one parliament - are being implemented this parliament; not to mention the deficit reduction plan which is about to come into full effect. The idea that this government is only interested in cutting the deficit may now look misplaced, but the excessive range of policy risks diluting government’s ability to respond to criticism and hold disparate parts of the coalition together - socialist Lid Dems have watched as tuition fees have been increased and government departments slashed on their watch.
The problem for the government is not necessarily any one reform, but the sheer volume. Tackling the deficit is a necessity, education has long needed reform as Britain slips continuously down the OECD rankings and welfare has long been in need of a major upheaval to make work pay. Individually, these reforms have substantial backing, but the government’s attempt to do so much in such a short period of time has left it exposed to attack as it struggles to defend such a diverse range of policies, for instance, Michael Gove’s free schools have suffered from a lack of support. Serious reforms have been further scuppered by the unnecessary kicking of the metaphorical bee hive by reforming the running of forests. There may be little evidence which suggests governments run forests better than the national trust but when there are substantially more important battles to fight its probably better to stay away from the ideologically sensitive unless completely necessary.
Core policy suffers
Reform over such a wide spectrum has left the government incapable of defending policies which were supposed to be at the centre of a new conservatism, notably, the big society. A weak defence by government of a sound concept of devolution to local authorities and voluntarism has made the policy look like a timid attempt to counter budget cuts. It has also left the government open to accusations from the left and worse still, from the public at large who increasingly are sarcastic towards the idea.
Cameron’s pet project is not the only policy which has been poorly implemented; NHS reforms have received little backing from health service professionals and tuition fees have been vehemently and vociferously protested. Doomsayers reckon that the excessive level of diversity in policy threatens to drag the co-alition apart as disparate groups forced together by the electorate in 2010 begin to pull apart under ideological disagreement amplified by contrasting policies; Notably the right wingers over AV and the socialist side of the Lib Dems over almost everything else.
The White House may complain over a lack of ability to ‘get things done’, here in Britain however the government could well benefit from a little focus on core policy and a movement away from such radical reforms on such an extensive scale.