Observing politics since May 2010, one thing has become clear to me: no mainstream political party has a credible radical big idea.
Let me explain from the view of the English big three:
The only real game in town for the Conservatives is reducing the deficit. This goal looms over everything. A number of strategies are being employed:
- Increasing taxes
- Reducing spending
- Reforming public services
There is no big idea about 1 and 2. These tools have been used by all previous Governments.
Health, education and the welfare state have been subject to major reform.
Andrew Lansley's proposals to change the way health care is delivered does appear to be radical. However, on closer inspection, the increasing involvement of the private sector and devolvement of power is really an extension of the reforms begun by Labour. The scale is somewhat larger, but the idea isn't new. A common theme with the more radical proposals from the Government is a failure to convince the public and poor implementation on the ground. The health proposals have been halted short of clearing the commons for 'further consultation'. In other words, no matter how much they have tried, they cannot convince health professionals that the proposals will work. So, even if the reforms are a radical big idea, they look far from credible.
On education, once again, the Conservative policy of increasing tuition fees is just extending the fees introduced by Tony Blair. The implementation has been terrible, as the envisaged average fee has been exceeded by even the poorest Universities. This will cost the Government an extra £1 billion as they pay the fees upfront. Where will the money come from for this black hole, a few months into the plan? This level of fees was entirely predictable - demand outstrips supply for University places, so the even the worst Universities have a captive market. Basic supply and demand economics.
Free schools just extend the principles that created academies, another Tony Blair policy. Michael Gove's handling of the details and the delivery on the ground has been very poor.
On welfare reform, IDS over many years had really worked hard to develop an understanding on the failure of the welfare state. In Government, these plans required serious upfront investment to make the changes, supported across the political spectrum. In truth the investment hasn't been there to deliver the policy as originally conceived. What we are left with is cuts to the help required by the most needy.
In summary, the Conservatives are largely following the path begun by Tony Blair, but with very poor delivery and implementation. Barely big ideas, hardly credible.
One final note about 'The Big Society' - it is clear that most of the public don't have a clue what it means, and the work of the third sector in our communities has been totally hamstrung with the cuts to local government. Potentially, the most radical and biggest idea of the Conservatives, appears to be rather ethereal, to say the least.
Ed Miliband has said in a number of speeches after winning the leadership that New Labour is over.
However, it is clear that his blank page actually still bears the traces of New Labour. His leadership of the Labour Party is currently based on opposition to the Government's ideas, without indicating the direction of travel he wishes to take. A long term policy review is under way, but some in party like myself, feel a drift. Ed drifts along the current, seeing what will turn up.
Ed has made his Shadow Chancellor accept the orthodoxy of deficit reduction without much criticism. He has also used language around choice, which tells me he while he hasn't used the terms third way and New Labour, his breath smells of them.
Labour is stood staring at the headlights of the 2015 Conservative General Election truck, as it races towards it. Ed shows no sign of making the radical reform of the Labour Party that it needs, breaking entirely into a new direction with big, radical ideas. If he carries on the 'will I' 'won't I' indecision on party direction, I'm afraid he will soon see George Osborne holding the truck's steering wheel with glee as it mows Labour down.
Nick Clegg's party is clutching onto the Coalition at one level, in a hideous death lock.
At the grass roots it is traumatised that the leadership is leading the party to electoral oblivion.
Before the Liberal Democrats can develop some serious and radical big ideas, they must face the voter's wrath. Only when it has picked up what is left of it after this battering can it move forward.
The Electorate of this country are desperate of an alternative to the Conservative/New Labour ideology. What our democracy needs is a well constructed approach that is different. New ideas that will help the underclass move from the trap that the free market has left them in, and promote real social mobility.
These ideas will be need to be big, radical and carefully crafted.
Sadly, no mainstream party is offering this.