A parable for our televisual age…
I had fought my way to a television studio to do a national broadcast interview reflecting on the outcome of the recent elections. Before I went on, they asked, what was I likely to say?
I explained that everyone should stay calm, no-one should lose their heads, Government’s always get a mid-term bruising and that, therefore, every effort should be made to keep rattles inside prams.
I suspected I had been called because of my reputation for becoming a serial rebel on policy matters and wanting to make sure that the Coalition Government was being held to account in Parliament. After a while, they came back to me apologising that I was no longer required and that they had something else to fill the slot after all!
Had I promised to describe the result as a political Armageddon or demanded the resignation of the Deputy Prime Minister they would, no doubt, have had me on straight away and created hourly news bulletins with clips of my wild predictions and fury.
The “stay calm: don’t lose your head” response is unusable and dreary for our televisual age. The media had decided that the result meant that Ed Miliband already had one hand on the keys of Number 10 and that the Coalition Government was inevitably in crisis.
But looking at the figures, it was less of a landslide for Labour than a landslide for the apathy party. Less than 32% of the population had turned out – the lowest for over 12 years. What would those who stayed at home have done if it were a General Election?
So does it portend a political Armageddon or is it just the usual mid-term bruising experienced by all previous Prime Ministers, Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown; and will also be experienced by Prime Ministers in the decades to come?
Some of my colleagues desperately crave the oxygen of publicity and would have played the media’s game and called for a dramatic gesture to get themselves into the news. One of my beloved former colleagues suffered badly from what I describe as the virulent disease of oxymoronica – to be prepared to do or say almost anything in order to breath the oxygen of publicity. He had never thrived in the carbon monoxide of relative obscurity, like the rest of us!
And so he engaged in the routine calls for heads to roll, dramatic resignations and policy u-turns.
My response is that a Coalition Government – never an easy life – should just do Coalition better. When it got underway it promised to come together in the national interest, restore the nation’s finances and secure sustainable growth in the economy whilst ensuring that “we’re all in it together”.
The question is, are we cutting the right things, investing in the right places and is the burden being shared equally? Yes, of course, so-called “difficult choices” (i.e. unpopular ones which lose you votes in elections during the mid-term!) have to be made about cuts in budget, but sensible investment needs to be made to stimulate the economy – in my view through investment in infrastructure, the construction industries and in picking potential future “winners” who will grow the economy and jobs. But are, as the Chancellor put it, “those with the broadest shoulders bearing the greatest burden”? Few people believe they are and, with rampant tax avoidance, there is a strong sense that they’re not in it with the rest of us. That’s where the Coalition Government needs to concentrate its efforts and will be the basis on which it is ultimately judged.
8th May 2012
Get the latest news from Andrew George straight to your inbox
* indicates required
Please tick to receive most relevant newsletter/s