The problem with Coalition governments is you can end up with policies that neither party wanted and few electors voted for. The Alternative Vote is one such idea. I fought the Wokingham election against changing the electoral system. The Lib Dems fought it in favour of a proportional system. We both agreed the AV system was not a good idea. Now the government is about the spend substantial sums on a referendum on just that system. I would prefer to save the money, and did not feel able to support the scheme put to Parliament. I did vote for a threshold so that a small minority of the committed cannot change our voting system, but that amendment was voted down. I recommend voters turn down this proposal when they have a vote on it. Why should people who vote BNP or Green or Independent get to vote twice or three times, whilst the rest of us only get to vote once. Under AV it can be the second and third choices of people voting for minority candidates which decide who should be the MP.
Many of us would rather have a referendum on how much power the EU should have over our lives. Once again the Coalition has not given Conservatives who fought the election on getting powers back from Brussels what we want. Doubtless some Lib Dems would like the Coalition to go further in giving more authority to the EU in more areas, so they too are unhappy. I have found myself unable to support the government when it has given more powers to the EU, and voted against the EU budget as I cannot accept increases in EU spending at a time of austerity at home. We were unsuccessful in urging the government front bench to add a question on the EU to the AV referendum, which would have made it a more worthwhile expenditure of money.
The government has recently made several apologies. I must say I find it refreshing that a government can hold up its hands and say it got something wrong and can say sorry for it. That was not common despite all the mistakes of the previous 13 years. Better still, however, is a government which does not make the mistakes in the first place. Ministers need to analyse what went wrong in each case, and work at preventing more mistakes in the future.
Liam Fox had to apologise when the MOD fired people by email. Knowing Liam well, I know he was horrified when he heard of how it had happened. He had to apologise on behalf of his department for a mistake not of his making. Michael Gove had to apologise for a failure to consult enough people over his plans to replace the expensive Schools for the future programme with a better value way of investing in new school buildings. Again his department should have told him what process to follow, though he too has to take responsibility for the outcome.
David Cameron has recently apologised for William Hague, for the delay in arranging transport to get UK citizens out of Libya. We cannot be sure whether this was another mistake in implementation, or whether the Foreign Secretary was slow to act himself. Finally, Caroline Spelman apologised for misreading the public mood over changes to the way we run our forest estate. That was a mistake by the politicians, who solemnly signed off a plan which they failed to explain convincingly to the public.
So what can we take away from these incidents? I conclude that government is far from easy. Ministers not only need to guarantee there is commonsense and strength in their chosen courses of action, but also need to chair meetings and ask questions to ensure the agreed policy is followed up and implemented in a timely and successful way. Given the financial situation of the country Ministers will also have to get used to choosing the least unpleasant options for reducing costs, and then stick to them despite the inevitable lobbies urging them to think again or to give in.