Today we are promised from Jack Straw that the government will do better in 2008, whilst the Prime Minister tells us he can carry through the changes the UK needs. Both senior politicians are long on words to meet the public mood, but short on ideas to sort out the mess Gordon Browns government has created.
This government is stuck in the mud of the old politics of the ??New?? Labour era. They believe politics is about raising large sums of money, spending it on ever more detailed opinion research, and then playing back carefully controlled messages to the public, based on what the public believe and what they want to hear. They spend a disproportionate amount of time monitoring the Opposition and seeking to distort or exploit any different nuance from any Opposition speech or spokesman. If they had their way there would be no debate, and the media would only receive the carefully honed messages of the central spin machines.
If they want to tackle the problems which 2007 will bequeathe to the new year, the first thing they need to do is to tear up this old model of politics. They need to limit the amount they can raise in individual donations, cut the amount they spend on opinion research and spin doctoring, and spend more time in their government offices seeking advice on how to solve the very pressing problems this country faces. Here are some suggestions:
1. The Credit Crunch. The government has to make room for more interest rate cuts and more private lending, by cutting its own demand for borrowing. It needs to cut back on inessential or undesirable spending ?? by cancelling the ID computer scheme, cutting out unwanted regional government, placing a staff freeze on more administrators for the civil service and the quango world, cutting regulation and removing unnecessary layers of government in the quango world.
2. Northern Rock. The government needs to work with the Bank of England to impose the disciplines on Northern Rock needed to limit the amount of extra lending the taxpayer has to do, and to set out how and when taxpayers will get their money back.
3. Flooding. Instead of crowing about how well he handled the floods in the summer, the Prime Minister should understand that six months on some people are still not back in their own homes thanks to the damage, and many homes remain at risk in this country. The government should change its planning policies, to make it clear there will be no more building on flood plain without proper water handling and containment measures being put in place. It should change the management of the Environment Agency, demanding of the new management that more of the money and effort goes into flood prevention schemes, and insisting on higher standards of maintenance of flood facilities.
4. Inflation. The government should see that its easy credit policies of recent years has left an inflation problem this winter. It should tell people it will cut petrol tax to a level which maintains the estimated amount of revenue from the tax in the budget, instead of persisting with the higher rates of tax imposed this autumn and threatened for next year, as petrol is one of the main items causing the price rise. It should redouble its efforts to reform the Common Agricultural Policy and to allow better access to our markets from developing countries, both to help the developing world and to provide some more countervailing pressure against the current big rises in food prices.
5. Transport. The government should start to match its rhetoric about increasing transport capacity with some action to show it is doing so. The pathetic level of railway service over this public holiday has reminded people just how limited the public transport option can be for many people, whilst the government has still not done the obvious things to increase the capacity and improve the flow of our existing highway network. This would be a green policy as well as a commonsense one, to ease the artificial restrictions on movement.
6. Cleaner hospitals. In 2008 the government should show it has made good progress in cutting hospital acquired infections and in cleaning up our hospitals, so people need not worry about going into a hospital for treatment.
7. Restoring faith in democracy. The government should start by offering a referendum on the EU Constitutional Treaty in line with their promise to electors in 2005. They could replace their distorting and gimmicky policy about petitions in local government with greater powers for local Councils to make decisions in areas like planning that matter most to people. The government could change its way of speaking to us, admitting the problems and setting out what it is doing about them,instead of playing silly politics with everything and refusing to answer most of the important questions.
8. The Post office. The government should be radical, granting shares in the Post office to its employees, and putting in a management that delegated power so the asset base could be properly managed and the revenues increased. We need to get away from cut after cut, and the negative approach coming down from the top.
9. Taxation. The government should revisit its CGT tax plans, keeping the 18% rate but also keeping a 10% rate for those who have invested in their own businesses or have bought employee shares.
10. Foreign Policy. The government needs to understand the power of the Anglosphere, and the need for the UK to strengthen its good links with India, Australia, and New Zealand to reflect the shift in world economic power to Asia away from Europe.
If they did some of these things the public would notice and the governments ratings would start to improve. If they did all of them they could become a very good government. They have a long way to go even to start reverse their recent plunge in popularity, because they are spinning too much and governing too little.