The TINA government….
David Cameron and his constant shadow, aka Nick Clegg, have agreed that there is apparently ‘no alternative’ to the NHS Reforms. This is somewhat unfortunate for both Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg because they are about as politically popular as the plague. A strong majority consensus is emerging to ‘Kill the Bill’ right through the medical profession, the general public, House of Lords to the pages of Conservative Home, which yesterday carried two scathing attacks on the reforms and their handling both here and here. The NHS is so popular there probably should be a political golden rule of don’t mess with the NHS.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that previous governments haven’t – however, Labour in office at least had the good common sense to introduce privatisation on the sly and gradually rather than in one big gulp. This has been the key strategic error the Coalition has made and it has now amended the ill-fated bill so many times its holier than a swiss cheese. If you were cynical you may suggest that the government is in an awful hurry simply to please its paymasters rather than represent the country. The reader may well think that but, of course, I couldn’t possibly comment.
Sadly, despite its many problems the Bill will most likely pass but by the time it actually has it will be so unworkable that the costs incurred will be mind-boggling. Mr Lansley may well be rewarded for his ‘success’ with a reshuffle somewhere else, far away from a vengeful publics view, – maybe to the department in change of auditing Whitehall’s paper clip supply.
Cameron and Clegg’s invocation of the infamous TINA defence not only exposes their sheer desperation but also exposes a potential weakness the government has; namely, I don’t think the electorate really wants to hear that there is no alternative. In the 80s this kind of bull-headed intransigence may well have thrilled the masses but that was then and this is now. Rather than told there is nothing to be done, I think people want to be shown there is a different way, especially after the crash. This is why Labour needs to be the Party of the Alternative.
Ed Miliband has made some rhetorical nods in this direction, however, when it comes to substantive policy committment things have been a little more disappointing. Timidity and yes, triangulation, are still too often guiding lights when it comes to the kind of alternative Ed wants us to offer. However, when both him and Ed Balls try to occupy the same space as the Conservatives, two things happen; our own supporters and activists become demoralised and disenchanted and the polling numbers start to get dramatically worse. It therefore should not be political rocket science to point out that this is generally a bad idea.
However, when there is a substantive difference between the two parties – even if that is in fact a preception-led rather than reality based view – well, then things start to improve. It is ultimately the function of an opposition to oppose and present itself as a government-in-waiting not to argue that there is actually no alternative to what the government is doing. After-all, if that were true, then you may as well vote for the government to carry on and have done with it. So, the more Cameron and Clegg are forced to repeat the dictum that there ‘is no alternative’ the better it is for us, provided, of course, we actually start to provide a real one.