Today’s announcement by Gordon Brown of his 5 election pledges is perhaps the most obvious hint so far that we should be looking no further than 6th May for the general election. They say memories are short in politics but my mind is drawn back to 1997, the dawn of the new Labour administration, and the 5 pledges that Tony Blair made then. Just what, I wondered, have Labour actually delivered in the last 13 years?
Here they are with my comments underneath:
1. Cut class sizes to 30 or under for 5, 6 and 7 year-olds by using money from the assisted places scheme.
Well, they abolished the assisted places scheme, at one stroke depriving many people from poorer backgrounds of the chance of a good education at a private school. Pure vandalism and driven by the old socialist hatred of public schools and grammar schools. But was the aim achieved? Not entirely. The average class size across the UK has fallen to 24.5, but according to Civitas the number of infant school classes with more than 31 pupils has risen by 8% in the last year to 22,810. I’d say this was a fail.
2. Fast-track punishment for persistent young offenders by halving the time from arrest to sentencing
I can’t find any data which accurately answers the question whether arrest to sentencing time has been cut. However anecdotal evidence from colleagues who work in the criminal courts suggests that it is very easy for defence lawyers to delay matters and they are assisted in this by court staff. And there is no doubt at all that the sentencing is so soft nowadays – the Government actively discourages judges from passing custodial sentences – that even if the time from arrest to sentencing has been reduced, it matters little if the criminal concerned is not dealt with appropriately. I’ll give the Government a narrow pass, but with the proviso that the pledge was a red herring in the first place.
3. Cut NHS waiting lists by treating an extra 100,000 patients as a first step by releasing £100 million saved from NHS red tape.
I’ll allow that the NHS has treated more patients in the last 13 years. But at what cost? The Government achieved its pledge in May 1999 but then finally began to realise that the target itself was distorting clinical priorities because health care proivders were being incentivised to perform quick and easy treatments rather than lengthy ones, irrespective of urgency, merely to meet the targets. By March 2002 the waiting list target was in the red. So they switched the target to one of limiting waiting times to 18 months. By and large they have kept to that, but at the cost of a massive injection of taxpayer’s money into the NHS. The Conservatives have pledged to keep the NHS budget at its current levels, but I wonder whether that is sustainable in the long run. So I’ll give them a pass, but it’s not been paid for merely by cutting red tape. Far from it.
4. Get 250,000 under-25 year-olds off benefit and into work by using money from a windfall levy on the privatised utilities.
They achieved this, but given that they were elected on a rising economic tide, wouldn’t they have achieved it anyway? And now that we’re in a downturn there is little sign that the New Deal is putting people who have been made redundant lately back into work.
5. No rise in income tax rates, cut VAT on heating to 5 per cent and inflation and interest rates as low as possible
Failure, abject failure. Income tax has now been increased to 50% for top earners. Taxes as a whole have been dramatically increased for everyone. The Government is massively in debt and the interest which the Government presenlty has to pay on its borrowings will soon feed through to consumer interest rates. Historically very low they may be, but whoever wins the election will see them going up in the next financial year. As David Cameron said at PMQs on Wednesday, the one rule of economics that always holds good is that you can never trust Labour with the public finances.
Time for change and that change is I hope now no more than 40 days away.