Cameron re-contaminates Conservatism with cuts and incompetence
At the precise moment Ed Miliband is (rather convincingly) stealing Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, One Nation, localising, compassionate conservatism (principally because the Prime Minister has abandoned his central vision and vacated the civic ground), we hear of yet another humiliating schoolboy error which will inevitably lead to yet another policy U-turn, and finally award the West Coast Main Line franchise to Virgin.
This one will cost the taxpayer an immediate £40million, and is likely to run into £100s of millions when the franchise bidders have all been adequately compensated. The error, apparently, was the failure to factor in inflation, which has led to the suspension of three civil service officials. This is deemed by a Downing Street spokesman to constitute ‘extremely complex minutiae that ministers would not be involved in’.
Sorry, but this is such a sub-A-level Economics error which any half-competent minister ought to have spotted immediately. The reality is that while the hapless former Transport Secretary Justine Greening was bullishly defending her department’s decision in the media, effectively accusing Sir Richard Branson of being a bad loser, she had presided over a shambolic process which led to a monumental injustice. The more she waffled on about efficiency and propriety, the more she concealed the reality of the incompetence which underpins the Cameron premiership.
This latest embarrassment follows forests, school milk, circus animals, Coulson, secret courts, Cornish pasties, conservatories and caravans. Not to mention Leveson, VAT on church repairs, Lords reform and absurd caps on charity giving. Margaret Thatcher always demanded rigorous detail of her ministers: if they weren’t up to the job, they were swiftly despatched. By comparison, David Cameron is sloppy and careless: he sacks highly competent and effective ministers like Tim Loughton and Nick Gibb, but simply shuffles Justine Greening off to another unsuspecting parish in the hope that her inadequacies may be concealed.
Her successor at Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, estimates that the total cost of the fiasco could reach £300m. Ms Greening now presides over the Department for International Development, managing a colossal (ring-fenced) budget of £6.7billion. Labour are demanding her removal from the Cabinet, insisting that a Government-owned company should run the West Coast. Only a perverse socialist logic could witness government incompetence on this scale and conclude that the solution is more government.
A better solution would be to put Sir Richard Branson into the House of Lords and make him a minister. Labour did it with the declining Lord Sugar, so an ascendant Branson would be of far greater worth to the nation. But his manifest skill, competence and acumen would only serve to highlight the carelessness, incompetence and inadequacy of the Prime Minister, who seems habitually to surround himself with the second-rate in order that he may shine.
There was a time when Conservatism was associated with those ‘nasty’ policy emphases – tax cuts, business interests, crime and punishment, anti-gay, EU withdrawal, free-market capitalism and Hayek’s theory of distribution. As part of his decontamination strategy, David Cameron promoted women, gays and ethnic minorities to safe Conservative seats, and ushered in an era of environmentalism, fervent support for public services, a think-tank dedicated to ‘social justice’, an apology for Section 28, moderate euroscepticism, socially liberal agendas like civil partnership and a plea that young offenders might be sympathetically understood rather than incarcerated.
All that has now been undone. The Government is divided, distracted and directionless. Nigel Farage was right: ‘We're being run by a bunch of college kids.’
Under David Cameron, the Conservatives have become the party of cuts and incompetence, and that – far more than any ideological adherence to ‘nasty’ Thatcherite conviction – is a toxic cocktail that will cost the next General Election.