Nice U-Turn

20 February 2011

Our current coalition government, I feel, is more of a good thing than a bad one. The Tories and the Lib Dems stand at opposite ends of the political spectrum, so neither party can do all it wants, which means we get steady, middle-of-the-road legislation rather than the more extreme variety we’d get if either party had things all its own way.

Unfortunately that doesn’t stop the Labour Party, now in opposition, from trying to trash everything the coalition does. I’ve always disliked the adversarial nature of our government system, where the party in opposition feels duty bound to scorn every decision made by the party in power. Even when a decision is clearly in the nation’s general interest the opposition will find some way of making it look foolish. I’m not touting here for any party in particular; it was just the same when Labour were in power.

uturnThe proposed sale of vast tracts of publicly-owned forest is a recent case in point. It was clearly a money-making idea at a time when the government was trying to get the nation out of debt. But the universal outcry from the public showed them how deeply unpopular this proposal was, and now they assure us that the idea has been scrapped. Good.

And what was the opposition’s line in all this? When the sale proposal was first made they cried ‘Shame!’ and accused the government of sacrificing public amenities on the altar of financial gain. Fair enough. So you’d think they would have been the first to cry ‘Well done!’ when the proposal was dropped. Instead, they pointed the finger of scorn while chanting ‘Weak government’, ‘Climb-down’ and ‘U-turn’.

That’s not good enough, in my view. It tells us that the opposition’s main focus is not upholding what’s best for the nation but making the government look daft. That’s a self-serving and childish attitude, the kind of thing one expects to see in a school playground but not in the halls of Westminster.

Yes, maybe the government should have done a bit more research into public opinion before coming out with the forest-sale proposal. And yes, if a government reverses its policy too often it is going to lose the nation’s confidence and so be legitimately branded weak. But personally I’m delighted that the government had the guts to scrap this particular policy and, even better, to stand up in the House of Commons and bluntly admit, ‘We got it wrong’.

‘Well done!’ say I. When your car’s about to smash into a road-block a U-turn may be a frustrating necessity but it’s also the right and sensible thing to do. That’s what happened here and applause, not scorn, is in order.

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