Boxed in politics

There was an interesting interview with former Norwich MP, Charles Clarke, on the Radio Norfolk breakfast show last week. He’s launching a series of public lectures, at the University of East Anglia, about public policy decisions and the tendency for politicians to delay a decision by putting it in the “too difficult box”.

It’s one of the big problems for governments, of all political persuasions. It’s tempting to put off decisions that need making, for fear of a public backlash if they prove unpopular. The ballot box looms large in a minister’s decision-making process. It doesn’t help if the Treasury is against the proposal because of their short term attitude. If so, it’s easier for a minister to drop it quietly.

The strength of the Coalition is that there is a shared determination to change things, even if in the short term there is a hit in the opinion polls. It wasn’t an option, as Labour thought, to put off the inevitable.

That’s why we have had to take the brave decisions we have; taking immediate action to cut the budget deficit and increasing tuition fees to pay for a world class university system. We are weathering the storm of public disquiet over those actions. There are other reforms; overhauling the welfare system so that it pays to work rather than rely on benefit payments, putting doctors in charge of both health budgets and patient care choices, grappling with the pensions time bomb that will cripple our economy in the future if nothing is done now.

It’s too early to write the history books but in future years I believe we will be seen as a great reforming government that didn’t put the difficult decisions in a box for someone else to deal with later.

26th January 2011