I got back from Leicester in time to catch a bit of Question Time and was interested to see that the audience seemed mildly supportive of the government’s U-turn on the sell-off of forests.
It was a very different reaction to the one I got at De Montfort University, where students seemed to go along with my assessment that it showed a rather alarming lack of grip and competence, and also showed what happens when governments do things for which they have no mandate.
Of the Question Time panel, Michael Heseltine’s response was the most interesting. He has a very good way of being caustic without seeming caustic. As I know him reasonably well from my journalistic days, I think I can safely translate his comments as being closer to mine than those members of the panel and audience who said it was good to see the government admit they had got something wrong.
Heseltine, who loves his trees, said he saw nothing wrong with the policy, but clearly agreed its handling had been cack. He thought it was fine to do the occasional U-turn, and fine to pretend it was a sign of strength, ‘so long as you don’t do it too often.’
Therein I read his observation that Cameron’s government was doing this too often for its own good, and certainly too often for old political hands like him.
It is becoming something of a trait. They announce something with a real fanfare. The public indicate disapproval. They defend themselves. Then David Cameron steps in and throws in the towel.
Yvette Cooper pointed out that it would be good if they did the same on the scale and scope of cuts. They won’t. Because as I said to the DMU students, George Osborne is in charge there. And whatever people may think of him, he is doing what ideological Tories have always done – using power to deliver their vision, in his case of a right-wing, small state market economy in which people fend for themselves rather than rely on others.
The lack of a majority for that view is an inconvenience but not a bar. Cameron on the other hand rather enjoys the game of the coalition. He knows what George is up to, and broadly approves but he has to keep Nick Clegg sweet by pretending that policies being pursued are ‘progressive.’
I must report from DMU that it was not working terribly well. The good news is that students are becoming more political. The bad news for the coalition is that bright young things do not appear to be buying their line(s).
There are still doubts about Labour of course, which is inevitable so soon after being ejected from power. But there is definitely a hunger to hear more from them. I totally endorse the comment on my blog yesterday from someone called Ronnie who urged Labour to set up some kind of big event at which these arguments on the economy, which alas even on Question Time tend to operate at the soundbite level, are played out in a fact-based debate on how we got to where we are. There are so many false claims in the Tories’ basic economic arguments and they need to be torn apart. Only then are we likely to see Cameron pushing his friend George from his slash and burn approach to cuts.