The New Government

We have been watching and waiting to see how things are shaping up.

During the days following the election there was a frenetic air in Westminster, the men dashing in and out brokering deals, they might as well have been throwing spears at each other it was so tribal. Thankfully Gordon Brown, (one of the best things he did, possibly the only good thing), drew an end to it by bringing his little boys out of number 10 so everybody could sob thereby forcing Cameron to rush off to the Queen.

It all happened much as we predicted in our book we were gratified to observe. The country in its wisdom, (democracy can be a wonderful thing when it works) gave all parties a bloody nose because it was fed up with the lot of them and furthermore it didn’t want any party to have too much power.

From our point of view the most alarming thing was that women were pretty much kept out of the whole election process. They were not in on the debates, they were not interviewed on TV news, and female candidates weren’t visited by the media. They, like other female opinion formers in this great non-debate were marginalised, in fact pushed out all together yet they seemed not to dare make a fuss, or were told not to. “The powers that be” must have made this jolly clear in the inimitable way that “the powers” have, without actually saying so, or putting anything in writing.

This election was brokered by men, for men. This was men’s business: “women keep out, let us handle this”, was the very strong subtext and this unspoken mantra ran through the whole electoral process like letters in a stick of rock.

Some of the selected commentators, (presumably self-selecting) all men, seemed to dash from one prime time slot to another in a matter of minutes. Ed Balls showed up everywhere as did Andrew Neil and Andrew Rawnsley. They were rolled out time and again to say the same things over and over. There were complaints of course, letters to the Times and so on. The Fawcett Society saw its moment and tried to weigh in, but they, like all other commentators, were ignored. Opinion formers, other than those designated were out. The momentum couldn’t be stopped, not by women; it was a runaway train full of male pundits enjoying their moment. Yee Haa!

TV producers were also criticised but they took no notice. Jon Snow wondered if the interviewers themselves were part of the problem and stupidly asked if it would have helped if he’d worn a dress. Only Jeremy Paxman asked searching questions. He even tried to debate the subject of missing women but he was rapidly moved on. Somebody had shouted BORING in his headpiece.

Unsurprisingly male MPs still massively outnumber women. As the Conservative Party did not achieve a runaway victory, the predicted bunch of Cameron’s Cuties didn’t flood in. Women in the chamber still struggle to be heard. There are only four women in the cabinet, although some, mainly Lib Dems have lesser ministerial posts.

So how are they doing? Well not too badly it seems. The newspapers seem desperate for the coalition to fail but so far Cameron has turned out to be a jolly good leader. He is intelligent, charming and energetic and not afraid to speak his mind. (Some of his advisers have fallen short in their briefings; it wasn’t a great idea to be critical of Pakistan given the devilish uncertainty of the Afghan war, however cleverly it played out in India).

In fact Cameron has proved to be doing pretty well on the world stage; we hope he doesn’t decide to make his name abroad like so many PMs before him, always the easy option. Domestic policy is always harder to grapple with. His new idea, (in fact there is nothing new about it) of targeting welfare benefit fraud may have pushed the buttons of a few stuffed shirts in his own back benches but the greater problem is tax dodgers in general, more particularly those in his own stratum of society. Surely efforts should be made to get people off welfare not punish them for pinching just a bit bigger slice of not a very nice pie?

If only he could sort out the railways…..now that would guarantee him a second term. Or if Nick Clegg could sort them out the coalition could go on forever. Still, I don’t think it will happen, politicians are still foolishly debating a multi-billion pound high speed rail network, which nobody wants; the people would rather have their money spent on more trains (and cleaner) on our local line, but as we observed in our book ministers don’t make their mark with maintenance, they like big projects to help their all important profile-raising.

George Osborne has showed himself more than up to the task of making cuts and insisting they be carried out. As we and Boris Johnson suggested, he is making a good fist of clearing away a lot of the nonsense. We are worried however that his team may not be addressing the number of incompetents deeply imbedded in the civil service, the incompetents who commissioned all the failed computer projects for example and the many disastrous PPP & PFI schemes that cost the tax payers untold millions as well as not working and running over budget.

Can he rootle out these miscreants? (What we do know for certain is that many a manager, and we came up against this fact time and again during our researches)however incompetent, is very practised, in fact downright Machiavellian, at guarding his own territory, watching his own back and blaming the other guy. They are always articulate and seemingly convincing and invariably expensive to get rid of. What we very much do not want to see is these types still in place while librarians and nursery teachers are made redundant and play areas scrapped.

The press hate the idea of a coalition…..particularly a SUCCESSFUL one. It just goes against the grain somehow. Boring, nothing to write about. Commentators warn about double-dips and gloomy economic forecasting; forgetting that it is only the uselessness of 99% of economic forecasters that got the country into the hole it is desperately digging its self out of. Banking? Inflation? Growth rates? Housing Prices? Spoken about with authority? What do experts know? Pah.

Theresa May seems to be doing a job and is more than up to the task of being Home Office Minister, (we admit this even if we don’t personally like her) and Caroline Spelman, although stuck with deeply boring subjects like recycling waste, is obviously working hard.

Health Minister Andrew Lansley isn’t doing too well however. The NHS simply can’t take another reorganisation. This minister should read our Chapter 10 “Tub Thumping” and see there is no point re-organising for the sake of it and dumping more work on GPs. Apart from the out of hours service that they jettisoned and needs firmly putting back in their own court, doctors are working well and should be left alone apart from being encouraged to whistle blow when necessary. Lansley has failed twice already, big time. He has bowed to the food producers and cancelled traffic light schemes for food labelling and refused to raise the price of alcohol because of pressure from the drinks lobby. People will get fatter and drunker. No one trusts him or thinks he is any good and he’s only been doing the job a few weeks.

The way to improve hospitals is to improve the existing management not take work away from them. Perhaps some role play could be devised for them by all the now redundant agencies that used to roll out happiness classes. Turn the managers into patients for a week and see how it is on the other side. Make them wait in their own waiting rooms, or for appointment times, or put them on trolleys in corridors.

Better still put Andrew Lansley on one and keep him there until things get simpler and better.

Michael Gove has got his heart in the right place but has his knickers in a twist. He has some good ideas, well theories at least, but is in a muddle about implementation. The danger with all his schemes is that only the middle classes will benefit from his wonderful plans. He hasn’t yet said what he will do for failing schools apart from cancelling most of their new buildings. And as for his first big idea, (actually originally promulgated under Labour) exactly how many people have the money, time and resources to set up a school on their own? Surely these people already send their children to the private sector, with a lot less bother.

Dear Eric Pickles, we wanted to have a photo of him in our book but somehow he was edited out. Anyway he has stood up for the English counties; now he is a man who truly understands the mood of the nation. We do think he should read our Health & Efficiency chapter however. In his present state he certainly can’t be re-shuffled into Health. Not as a role model although he would do as a terrible warning. And he would have been a certain beneficiary of the abandoned traffic light scheme.

Ken Clarke seems to have put a few stuffed shirts out of joint by registering scepticism about the usual Tory thinking that “prison works”; Iain Duncan Smith is quietly beavering away as before but the Lib Dems seem to be rather quiet. Maybe they are all just getting on with it, (unused to power they have no history of personal “image building” and think they are simply there to do a job of work) which is what the country wants after all. Funnily enough it is the Lib Dems who have provided the little scandals: David Laws’ boyfriend problem and Chris Hulme’s bi-sexual lover. Nothing too much for the tabloids to get their teeth into, but give it time.

Nobody seems fazed by the fact that half the cabinet are Old Etonians, (in spite of indignation whipped up by the press). The fact that our education system has thrown up too few contenders to challenge the Etonian prerogative will have to be revisited in time but right now it is the least of our concerns. Frankly we just want competence, a team who can just do the job without unnecessary fussing and leave us to get on with our own lives, thank you very much.

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