Living in London and (attempting) to use the Tube most days, it’s deeply ironic the legacy of Gordon Brown’s political career which I am reminded of most often – his insistence on forcing through the botched part-privatisation of the Tube – is something quite at odds with his overall record.
For his overall record is not of dogged determination to bring in as quickly as possible a radical policy come what may. Instead, it is one of ducking the big tough choices and looking to attempt to play clever with the details instead. Not so much a case of fiddling while Rome burns but a case of introducing a long-term strategic review of temperature units while Rome burns.
And so it was again with his big speech this afternoon. Look at the policy highlights (headings from a MORI briefing – thank you MORI):
- A referendum on electoral reform – but, as Stephen Tall pointed out, it’s only a watered down version of the manifesto promise he stood on 12 years ago.
- The power to recall MPs – but hedged in with such high hurdles and limited circumstances in which it can be used that it’s barely a power at all.
- New national investment corporation – yes! more bodies! more vision statements! more strategic plans!
- More free childcare for poor families – except as James Landale put it, “What he didn’t say is that it won’t happen for five years and that it will be funded by cutting childcare tax subsidies for those who are a little better off”. In other words, hide the price, delay the implementation but hope the headlines turn out fine first.
- ID cards – sort of, perhaps, partially not quite going to be forced on everyone, as Alex pointed out.
- New local powers to limit 24 hour drink licenses – in other words, “we introduced a policy, we forced it on everyone, so we’ll shift the buck to someone else to sort out what to do instead”. (Even if good news by the back door in that it means local councils will get more power to pick what suits in their area.)
- Tighten up the immigration system – remind me, how many times have we heard that before?
- Introduce law to require 0.7% of GDP to go on foreign aid – sounds good, doesn’t it? But it won’t actually direct a penny more to international aid. And what do you think a Government will do during a time of financial crunch? Sticking through a repeal will hardly be more arduous than putting up with criticism during a public spending round when a figure is cut. [Update: um, I’ve changed my mind on this one; it was a good policy]
- Supervised networks for 16 and 17 years olds – the one clear, substantive new policy. Just a shame it’s ‘gulags for slags’ with an uncanny echo of the BNP.
In other words, the typical Gordon Brown mix of authoritarianism, sleight of hand, re-announcements and love of creating new bodies and new rules.