As I have said before in these blogs, I am sure that David Cameron is a very nice chap who would like to do his best. Yesterday, yet again, he was telling us that he is feeling “incredibly optimistic” which was quite sweet but also quite scary as he embarks on the government’s hastily cobbled together plans for reorganizing the National Health Service. This is the Coalition Government’s style: rush in and get things done.
We didn’t, of course, know what we were getting at the last general election. Would it be Labour or would it be the Conservatives? No one really expected this Coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, not even them themselves. So manifestos had to be largely thrown away and the new government began a process of inventing policies as they went along like this new NHS plan. All we could see is that they wanted to do things quickly, change things, make an impact.
One thing they did promise before the election, well the Conservatives that is, was that they would move quickly on making major cuts in the economy even if they didn’t know exactly how they would do it. David Cameron is incredibly optimistic about this too and so our economy is being overhauled with a whistle and a prayer.
Behind all this is the ghost of Tony Blair who, in 1997, arrived in office as a bright young thing full of great plans for the future and ready for change.
The trouble with Blair, well there were a lot of things wrong with him but that is another point, the trouble with Blair’s first administration was that it was frightened of doing things too quickly, frightened of scaring the City and frightened of scaring the middle Classes so it lost its great chance to change things whilst it was still popular.
David Cameron admired Tony Blair and would love to have his now derided “common touch” – none of the rest of us want another Tony but David is an old-fashioned guy. The one thing he is determined to avoid though is Tony’s big mistake.
So there will be no time for reflection, no time for details, no time for plans B – the Coalition is going to act quickly even if that means ignoring the experts and ruining whole swathes of the country’s infrastructure in the process.
Let’s hope that they get at least some of it right.
Margaret Thatcher, rather surprizingly, was an admirer of the Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee who was responsible for introducing the National Health Service after the Second World War even though he knew that there really wasn’t enough money in the till to pay for it. He is reported to have said afterwards that he knew that if he didn’t introduce a welfare state that looked after its citizens “from the cradle to the grave”, no one ever would. I would love to think that Mr Cameron had similarly great ideas but, as Margaret Thatcher said of the quietly businesslike Attlee, he was “all substance and no show.” not something we could say about Tony Blair or David Cameron.
David Cameron, as well as being “incredibly optimistic” is also, I feel sure, full of good intentions as were most British prime ministers when they were new to office.
‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.’
Well, even her strongest supporters would say that she didn’t do any of that.
New prime ministers deserve a touch of optimism but they also need to get real. Government is hard, change in a modern democracy is complex and frustrating. If you are a bright new broom, like Thatcher, Blair and Cameron it is relatively easy to make big brash speeches of incredible optimism. If you have to try to pick up the pieces after them though, it is another story. Look at post-Thatcher PM, John Major and post-Blair PM, Gordon Brown.