"A government with 20 priorities has no priorities"
In today's Daily Mail I look at Cameron's party management challenges.
Within the piece I argue that the government is reforming on so many fronts that it is not sufficiently focused on any. In particular it is not crafting a clear message for its most important priorities.
I suggest three top priorities:
- Living within our means: Unless we pay off Labour's debts and start living within our means we will leave impossible debts for our children and job-creating businesses.
- Welfare reforms: If we get more people into work and reduce the extraordinary cost of housing benefit we'll be able to reduce taxes and ensure we can afford proper care for the most vulnerable members of our society.
- Skilling and educating the next generation: If we are to compete with emerging economies our children need to graduate with internationally rigorous academic qualifications. If we are to stop importing immigrants for basic tasks we need to equip the next generation with vocational skills that will give them fulfilling, lasting jobs.
The Big Society might be a fourth priority. Localism and decentralisation could be a fifth. Many more than five priorities and my fear is that the government won't deliver any as well as they need to. For reforms to succeed they need focused support from the best brains in government. This is particularly important when (1) the ministers in the Coalition are unavoidably inexperienced, (2) have little support in the way of Special Advisers and (3) when they are often dealing with a resistant civil service.
One of my hopes for the new Downing Street Communications Chief is that he or she won't have the day-to-day responsibility of worrying about the Prime Minister's next event or the following day's newspaper headlines. Andy Coulson probably needs to be succeeded by three people:
- Ideally a broadcast journalist to worry about the Prime Minister's media image.
- A thoughtful Conservative, close to the Prime Minister, who will brief opinion-formers on the government's thinking on big issues.
- And, thirdly, an individual who has responsibility for moving public opinion on the Coalition's top priorities. This, as I blogged last week, would involve sustained efforts to ensure the public supported the deficit reduction plan, the welfare reform programme and Michael Gove's education policies. The head of communications would use internet campaigns, constant briefing of the most important moves-and-shakers in that sphere, close contact with commentators, and sophisticated opinion poll research to achieve these ends. If you don't have priorities you end up failing to sell any policies properly.