Liam Fox’s admission that “mistakes were made” (note the cliched passive voice) in his dealings with Adam Werrity reminds me of a curiosity about this government - that it doesn’t seem very good at the nitty-gritty of governing.
By this I don’t mean that it has the wrong policies. Errors in policy and administration are inevitable. I mean instead the sheer number of unforced errors that it has made. Fox is just continuing a pattern, for example:
- Theresa May gives the impression that she’s basing policy upon a story that’s not only a pack of lies, but not even her own lies. Did she really think she could get away with this?
- David Cameron appointed Andy Coulson as his press secretary, despite his being associated with allegations of phone-hacking.
- Andrew Lansley has been unable to explain the point of his NHS reforms; what exactly is the problem to which they are the solution?
- The huge number of “u-turns” the government has done suggests a lack of forethought and/or an inability to prepare public opinion for its policy announcements.
- When Michael Gove closed the Building Schools for the Future programme, it took him five attempts to name the schools that would be affected by this.
- Recent policy announcements, such as on weekly bin collections and raising the motorway speed limit, have been on trivial matters - the sort of things a tired government in its fifth year of office might do, rather than the significant changes we’d expect early in its term.
- The government has failed to find the genuine efficiency savings it promised.
These episodes seem to confirm Zoe Williams’ assessment, that we’re looking at a government with “no idea what governing entails, let loose on a system with no clue about its structure and mechanisms.”
Now, we mustn’t exaggerate here. There never was a golden age of wholly competent government: past administrations have contained large numbers of buffoons and mediocrities. Nevertheless, considering the Tories are supposed to be the “natural party of government”, they seem remarkably bad at governing.
Which brings me to a hypothesis. Could it be that its incompetence arises precisely because it believes it is the natural party of government? Cameron and his colleagues think they are entitled to rule, and this causes them to under-rate the importance of working hard and following procedures such as ensuring that ministerial meetings had civil servants present. They are like those footballers who believe their natural talents give them a right to be lazy, and who end up slipping out of the game.
This is compounded by another error. If you think your policies are simple common sense, then you’ll believe them to be self-evidently right, and so won’t bother thinking about details and counter-arguments. You’ll ignore the fact that governing is not like bashing out a 1000-word column before breakfast. It’s not as simple as that.