Published:

I cannot remember a duller Budget. To that, George Osborne would have a curt reply: good. The Captain has set the ship's course. He is convinced that he was right. Although he is now proposing some imperceptible navigational adjustments, the message is still clear. Steady as she goes.

Will it work? In purely UK terms, I suspect that the prospects are good. But what is going to happen to the Eurozone? Will there be a crisis in the Persian Gulf? How long are the odds against political instability in China? One still encounters Lefties who gloat over every example of British geo-political weakness, and then insist that all our economic problems could be solved by Keynesianism in one country. We are fortunate that George Osborne is an iron realist as well as a formidable politician. There, he will have to be busy. It will not be enough to bestride his quarterdeck looking nonchalant while the young laddie Danny Alexander makes sure that all is well in the engine-room. As long as the Coalition lasts, the politics will mean constant embattlement.

We are now at the end of the first phase of this Government. Does that signal the end of radicalism? Yes, and no. An Irish Parliamentarian once lamented that: "Ireland's cup of troubles is running over – and it is not yet full". The same is true of this Government, The radical period is over – and it has not yet begun. The key word now is "implementation", and that will make immense demands on radicals' nerves.


Four reforms of the utmost magnitude have been forced through. They are the CHEW: cuts, health, education and welfare. In each case, many problems lie ahead. Most of the cuts have still to be implemented. When they are, some will hurt. Tory supporters who are all in favour of cuts will discover that some local indulgence is to be exicised, and will complain.

Back in 1980, I met that fine American and occasional politician, Ron Paul. It was at a fund-raising dinner in Houston and he was giving his well-off Republican backers a message that they did not want to hear. A boondoggle was being proposed in Galveston, out of Federal funds, which would have made most rich Texans even richer. "Y'all want to cut government spending", Mr Paul told his audience. "But that doesn't only meaning spending in Michigan. It should apply here in Texas too". Mr Paul has never had a comfortable relationship with American electoral politics, for obvious reasons. The British Conservatives are now going to find that cuts do not always buy votes.

Health is harder, even though there are no cuts. The Daily Mirror is proclaiming the death of the NHS. Clearly, its health desk is now staffed by those who were proclaiming the life of Bob Maxwell's pension funds. It should be easy to deal with an absurd blend of hysteria and dishonesty, but when it comes to health, the British public is not always rational. I will now make a firm prediction. Over the next couple of years, someone will die in hospital. It might be Granny Bloggins, aged 98, after several strokes, long-since despaired of. This will not prevent the Labour party, the Mirror and the BBC from claiming that she was murdered by the Tories' NHS reforms.

Think back to railway privatisation. Although rail travel is relatively safe, whenever large objects carry human beings around rapidly at high speed, there are accidents – and fatalities. There is no evidence that those fatalities increased under privatisation. This did not prevent Labour and the unions from blaming every death on the Tories. The Government has to ensure that the same does not happen on health.

Ministers have one advantage. I doubt if more than two or three thousand people in this country understand the health reforms. So the Government needs to produce a brief and punchy executive summary explaining why these new measures will bring out the best in the NHS. Once crafted, it should be endlessly repeated. The same is true on education and welfare. Find the words. Then dominate the debate.

The cuts are harder. But Messrs Cameron and Osborne have no choice. They must repeat and go on reiterating the most defining of all Maggie-isms: there is no alternative. Again, however, there is more scope for simple words. The voters still do not understand how we got into this mess. The Government shoud tell them.

The focus has indeed now shifted, from legislation to implementation. But if ministers think that they can now relax because their Bills have been enacted, they are profoundly deluded. Implementation will be resisted, every hour of every day. There is only one way for the Government to deal with that: by finding the right words. In order to succeed, "implementation, impementation, implementation" will have to be accompanied by "politics, politics, politics".

Comments are closed.