Does the government need to do less – but do it better?
A powerful critique by former minister, Nick Raynsford, in the latest New Statesman of the efforts by the Brown government to win back public support has been picked up by many of the papers this morning. Inevitably this is being seen as part of the moves to back the leadership ambitions of David Miliband.
Ranysford writes: “…There is no single â€˜Get Out of Jailâ€™ card, and it is foolish to believe that such simplistic solutions will do the trick. Indeed some are counter productive, inviting the publicâ€™s contempt by implying a desperation to â€œbuyâ€ support by ditching unpopular taxes or offering dubious incentives. Dangling the carrot of home ownership in front of low-income council tenants in current market conditions for example is a deeply suspect proposition.
Just as dubious is the siren call for more initiatives. One of the greatest mistakes in government is to confuse activity with outcomes. Just because ministers feel busy devising 101 new ways of tackling a problem does not guarantee the problem gets solved. Instead the public grow cynical as government rhetoric becomes increasingly divorced from reality, while practitioners grow exasperated when expected to implement yet another initiative, often before the previous one has even been evaluated.”
To me Raynsford’s diagnosis seems spot on. Where the article falls short is the absence of serious conclusions. He says that the government should do less but do it better and wants the “heat to be turned up on the Tories”. What he doesn’t say is how.
For the media narrative matches the public mood of the desire for change and it is hard for the party to change this. Just remember how it was for John Major’s Tories in the 1995-1997 period – there was almost nothing they could do to get the focus on Labour. But Raynsford is right – a less frenetic period with the focus on quietly getting on with the job might work wonders.
And my own bit of advice for Gordon – stop including numbers in every single utterance and you will come over much better. Talk about what you are trying to achieve rather than how much has been allocated. The current approach turns the public off. The mere fact that public money has been spent does not mean that a problem has been solved.