By Tim Montgomerie
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It's been a bleak fortnight for the Conservative Party as the weaknesses of the Cameron project came home to roost. Warnings about (i) the structure of Downing Street, (ii) the lack of narrative, (iii) the choice to put cuts rather than growth at the heart of the economic programme and (iv) metropolitan-rather-than-striver-focused modernisation have all been ignored.
We should occasionally remind ourselves, however, of the good things that the Government is doing. Here's ten (it's always ten!) that come to my mind…
- The schools reforms. Michael Gove's successes are well-known. More academy schools. The free schools revolution. The Pupil Premium. The EBacc etc etc. His announcement on A-levels – warmly welcomed today by Jill Kirby – is yet another move in the right direction.
- Welfare reforms. The Government is sending out a message that the dependency culture is over. The Work Programme is forcing claimants to actively seek work, improve their skills or lose benefits. People are coming off incapacity benefits as they are subject to independent medical assessments. Caps are being placed on housing benefits and general entitlements. As time goes by expect those caps to get tighter.
- Greater localism. The ending of restrictions on local councils should mean a flowering of local innovation in the years ahead as local people, free of central control, experiment with new ways of delivering services and then other councils emulate their approaches. City mayors will ensure the brightest and best are attracted to local government and will help ensure that the likes of Salford or Liverpool get a better deal.
- Elected police chiefs will ensure our police service gets closer to the public's priorities. Nick Herbert's wider police reforms should also ensure more officers are on the beat and they are better trained to be effective at their job. Reform of this least reformed public service is brave in an era of public protest but still very welcome.
- A higher and more sustainable retirement age.
- The tuition fees policy. It's a messier policy than it should have been but more money will now flow into the nation's universities because of the raising of the cap to £9,000.
- Immigration control. I think it's very unlikely that Cameron will fulfil his promise to bring net immigration down to the tens of thousands – more measures are needed to achieve that – but substantial progress will be made.
- The referendum lock. Policy towards the EU and the €uro, in particular, has generally been disappointing but the referendum lock will at least ensure some restriction on future governments' ability to surrender powers. William Hague has been a good Foreign Secretary. His refocus of the FCO on BRIC nations and long-time allies like Canada and Australia is very welcome.
- Vaccination of some of the most vulnerable people in the world. You don't have to agree with every aspect of the UK aid budget to be proud that our money is stopping very preventable killer diseases from killing hundreds of thousands of children every year.
- Various constitutional changes including fixed-term parliaments which will stop PMs running to the country when it suits them and the boundary changes which will address part of the crazy way that the current configuration of seats favours the Labour Party.
There are other things I could list but are (1) much more announcements than implemented reforms or, alternatively (2) are outweighed by negative moves. In the first category is Iain Duncan Smith's commitment to make work pay. That will be a jewel in the Coalition crown if it can be delivered but it's a hugely difficult computerisation project and the jury is out on whether Whitehall can deliver something so complex. There's also the deficit (where tough decisions are increasingly and worryingly being backloaded and financing is complicated by massive QE) and the introduction of regional pay. In my second category are George Osborne's moves on tax. His corporation tax cuts and reduction in the 45p tax rate are welcome but are happening late in the electoral cycle and follow much bigger rises in taxes on expenditure, capital gains, NI and the City. Equally the higher income tax threshold is being offset by VAT and also dragging millions more into the 40p tax bracket. Tax, as John Redwood has blogged, is too high for comfort and far too high for economic growth.