The Conservatives appear to have learnt little from Labour on the dangers of making policy on the hoof. For British jobs for British workers, now read scrapping NHS Direct.
Yesterday health secretary Andrew Lansley backtracked on the plans in the face of stiff opposition and a mass petition – perhaps the first major national victory against a proposed service cut. Questions still exist over the future staffing and funding levels for the service, but it at least seems likely to continue in some form.
But no sooner was Lansley rolling back from his on-the-hoof policymaking than George Osborne was riding in to fill the breach, suddenly announcing an extra £4bn of benefits cuts for the unemployed, taking everyone surprise, and thoroughly annoying the Liberal Democrats.
The reasons why this makes no sense are sufficiently obvious and oft-repeated that I’ll just list them:
- there are precious few jobs for the jobless to go to
- Jobseekers Allowance is already pretty stingy
- the government seems rather less concerned by the vast sums lost to tax avoidance
But what makes this latest episode so extraordinary is how flimsy it is. It was announced with apparently minimal consultation with the Department for Work and Pensions or the Lib Dems.
The £4bn figure frankly seems to have been plucked out of the air. Can it survive as far as the October 20th spending review? Won’t it get torn apart and shot at by Osborne’s cabinet rivals behind the scenes? The likes of Iain Duncan Smith and possibly Vince Cable must be turning red with rage.
So should we get angry at the latest announcement? Count the days before the government performs another u-turn?
Or just sigh at the incompetence and illogicality of it all?