Conservative Diary

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The Coalition risks looking a lot smaller than the challenges it faces

By Tim Montgomerie
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Three things in this morning's media attracted my attention.

  • Item one is Fraser Nelson's column on the summer's riots. They seemed so seismic at the time. For some they were a wake up call to a criminal underclass. For others they were a sign of a very unequal society - not just unequal in material terms but grossly unequal in terms of social capital (I think of skills, family and civil society). They were also a warning of a new age of internet-powered anarchy. Fraser notes that "it took less than a month for the subject to virtually vanish from public debate". Referring to the government's looming report into the riots he predicts "a pretty low-quality investigation that is expected to add nothing to our greater understanding."
  • Item two is yesterday's news that net immigration hit a record high of 252,000. The Government can legitimately say that its measures are still to have much of an effect and that a reduction in emigration rather than an increase in immigration is the real problem. Nonetheless the consensus outside of the Home Office is that the Government hasn't done enough to control immigration. Not close to enough. Downing Street has actually vetoed control measures that Theresa May and Damian Green wanted to introduce. Unless immigration is controlled it is going to be very hard for Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling to succeed in getting people out of welfare and into work. The public has already concluded that Cameron will miss his immigration target.
  • Item three is the news that the government is introducing a £1 billion scheme to help young people into work. Except it isn't, of course, £1bn now but £1bn over three years. This is another Brown trick we've learnt. It's not an insignificant sum but hardly a bazoooka. And I'm not sure I'd even want it to be bazooka-sized. This new government scheme is the latest in a long series of Gordon Brown-style interventions in the economy (see Allister Heath). It follows the new indemnity scheme for first-time buyers that has been widely panned. Last week David Cameron announced a £50 million scheme for small businesses. We've had Nick Clegg dishing out subsidies to firms in his constiutuency as part of his regional growth fund. There was that regional National Insurance scheme that employers ignored. Schemes, schemes, schemes.

I could have mentioned the government's unambitious approach to EU renegotiation. All of these things add up to a sense that the government's policy agenda is much smaller than the challenges it faces. Where is the big investment in early intervention that the summer's riots demanded? Where is the sense of urgency on immigration? Where is the economic shock therapy of the kind Margaret Thatcher introduced in 1979?

Next week George Osborne announces his autumn statement. Europe could be on the edge of another job-killing recession. He can't afford to underwhelm and, on Monday, I'll be setting out benchmarks with which to judge what he proposes.


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