Engine problems

AngelaSmith.jpgAngela Smith on why the government is coming off the rails and running out of steam

The continuing debate this week on the Queens Speech is unprecedented – the first time, as we’ve drawn to the end of a parliament, that we’ve known when the general election will be. When combined however, with a Coalition, the unity of which – both between parties and within – is disintegrating, we seeing a final session government programme that is thin and weak.

Such unusual circumstances mean that the Conservatives and LibDems are already trying to seek an electoral advantage over one another, taking credit for what they think the public will like; and at the same time passing the blame when and where it suits. Each time the Coalition loses a vote, the justifications about which party is responsible for what will become even more bizarre the closer we get to next May.  

Ever since the local and European election results were declared, more and more senior LibDems have been prepared to speak out against their Coalition with the Tories. If not quite destroying them as a potent electoral force, they have been clearly damaged in almost every part of the UK. But while public rows and press briefings are evidence of the growing disenchantment between the two parties, it is now also glaringly obvious within the ranks of each. Taken together, what we’re now witnessing amounts to a proper old shambles. It’s like a train trying to travel in both directions while not entirely on the rails.

I’ve long been appalled that Nick Clegg and colleagues, when entering their Coalition with David Cameron, failed to achieve, or maybe even ask for the policies that they told the electorate were most important to them. For example, no increase in university tuition fees. Instead, settling for more ministerial jobs and a failed referendum on a constitutional change to the voting system that barely anyone wanted.

There’s a lesson here for us all. Not to focus on internal issues important to politicians and political parties, but on those issues that matter to people and make a positive difference to the quality of life  

The Conservatives meanwhile sought to get away with offering more ministerial jobs rather than a genuine compromise around the policies on which they had failed to convince the electorate to vote for them. Instead, they have championed a tax cut for those earning over £150,000 a year and ploughed on regardless with deep cuts that have caused real damage and suffering for many vulnerable people.

Tory Ministers remain very confident, perhaps arrogant, about the economic recovery. But how do they explain why the number of those in work claiming housing benefit has increased by 60%? Why are so many more people turning to food banks? And why does NetMums report that 1 in 5 working families have had to choose, between paying an essential utility bill or putting food on the table?

All of our citizens have the right to be participants, not just bystanders, in any economic recovery. In less than a year, there will be a new government and a new Queens Speech. 

Only Labour will bring forward measures to address the issues that will really make a difference to people’s lives: fairness in employment, tackling the housing crisis, the costs of the weekly shop or household bills. The Coalition’s shambolic train will continue to run out of steam, and I for one look forward to the day when we take control of the engine.

Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon is a Shadow Home Office Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @LadyBasildon

Published 9th June 2014

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