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The lady wasn't for turning because she didn't try to do too much

Tim Montgomerie

'U-turn-ery' has been exercising the political commentariat recently. I contributed to the five minute package above for yesterday's Politics Show. And The Spectator's Fraser Nelson noted that the lady may not have been for turning but, as for David Cameron, the "laddie IS for turning".

As Fraser blogs, the key problem is not the number of u-turns (there have been remarkably few). The key problem is the speed and scale of the Coalition's reform programme. Steve Hilton apparently wants to change everything (and it's always good to have a radical within a team to challenge the snails). Overall, however, it is better that the government focuses on doing a few things very well and focuses on communicating those things. I've suggested that the government should focus on deficit eradication, welfare reform, school reform and perhaps one or two other big projects. The NHS reforms, in particular, may be a reform too far.

The key lesson from Margaret Thatcher isn't 'don't do u-turns' but don't over-promise. Her government was less ambitious than David Cameron's, perhaps, because - burnt by the Heath years - she knew what Whitehall was capable of delivering. She also knew that controversial projects like forestry privatisation - however justifiable - shouldn't be pursued if they distracted from central projects.

David Cameron might like to consider involving some of the party's greybeards a little more. One MP told me this morning that an ex-Cabinet minister had said, months ago, that forestry privatisation would be nightmare politics and wasn't worth the hassle. A regular outreach to experienced former ministers might help improve policies and steer the government away from previously explored minefields. It would help address many of the points raised by James Kirkup in an important article for today's Telegraph on the PM's "lack of grip" of Whitehall.


On Forestry privatisation, Caroline Spelman was monstered at a meeting with Tory MPs last week. The proposed sale of the Forestry Commission is producing a bigger mailbag than either tuition fees or the EMA for many Conservatives (and disproportionately from natural Tory voters). I don't expect the policy to be continued in anything like current form.


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