On a number of key policies, no one in the government seems quite sure what's going on
We can now confidently conclude that the Conservative manifesto was written in the expectation that David Cameron would have it watered down by a coalition, or some other loose arrangement with the Liberal Democrats.
Because now the Tories are governing alone, it is startling just how quickly the wheels are coming off on a number of flagship policies.
Here are some of the difficulties they’ve run into so far:
Human Rights Act
“The next Conservative government will scrap the Human Rights Act, and introduce a British Bill of Rights. This will break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK.”
That was the confident assertion made on page 60 of the party’s manifesto. In the Queen’s Speech last week it was watered down so that ministers now plan merely to ‘bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights’.
On the left of the party, the former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve has argued that scrapping the Human Rights Act would have ‘very considerable’ consequences for Britain’s place in the world. On the right, the former chief whip Andrew Mitchell has declared that he is ‘extremely sceptical about the government proposals’, stating conclusively that he is ‘concerned about withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights.’
Things are made even messier by the possibility that pulling the Human Rights Act would unravel the devolution settlement; the latest from Michael Gove is a suggestion that somehow the devolved nations could retain the Human Rights Act even if it was scrapped in England.
David Cameron is now reported to be at loggerheads with both Gove and Theresa May over withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights.
The prime minister, his team confidently predicts, will secure some great victory over the EU, achieving reform that will make the UK’s place in it far more palatable to voters.
The only problem is that that no one has a clue what success will look like. Number 10 seems reluctant to let either parliament or voters hold David Cameron accountable for his ambitions, which will either not go far enough for the right of his party; or go too far for EU leaders.
And then came the reality check. Although on the pro-EU wing of the party, big beast Ken Clarke yesterday told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show that the prime minister is not seeking to repatriate any powers from Brussels back to the UK. Rather, Clarke argued, he’s looking simply for economic reforms – whatever they might be.
Throughout the election campaign Conservative spokespeople repeatedly refused to explain to the country how it would make the £12 billion of further savings it was proposing to the welfare budget, urging the country simply to trust Iain Duncan Smith.
Now however, it seems the Work and Pensions secretary was surprised when the figure emerged in January. According to one of his allies, ministers ‘did not expect to have to implement such heavy hits on welfare spending, assuming the pledge could be watered down during coalition negotiations with the Liberal Democrats’.
Right to Buy
No sooner had the Queen delivered her speech than Boris Johnson argued that it would be the ‘height of insanity’ to use the proceeds from Right To Buy to build more homes outside London when the capital has a housing crisis.wheeze coming
And for good measure, the former permanent secretary to the Department for Communities and Local Government Bob Kerslake will tomorrow use his maiden speech in the House of Lords to attack the policy.
“I will raise my serious concerns about the policy in its current form”, he told the Observer yesterday.
“I think it’s wrong in principle and wrong in practice, and it won’t help tackle the urgent need to build more housing and more affordable housing in this country, particularly in London.”
Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.