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Thu, 4 June 2020

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Conservatives are failing to govern, and failing the country

Conservatives are failing to govern, and failing the country
4 min read

With civil servants across Whitehall being deployed in large numbers to focus on Brexit, the risk of major projects not being delivered on time and on budget is growing, writes Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Jon Trickett. 

In an unremarked but strange piece of symmetry, both the US and UK governments are in partial shutdown.

In the US, Trump is preventing a return to functioning government by refusing to give up on his wall. Here in the UK the Prime Minister is presiding over a government which is no longer fully working, because of the invisible wall she has built around her botched Brexit deal, which does not command the support of the Commons and is quite simply undeliverable.

Because of this, and the stifling nature of the Fixed-Term Parliament Act, we are in a parliamentary impasse.

Crucially, this is fast becoming a crisis of governance, as the Government moves large numbers of civil servants away from their normal duties and into a fruitless exercise that commands no parliamentary majority. The impact of this is staggering.

The latest Whitehall Monitor by the Institute for Government, published on Tuesday, reveals a government grinding to a halt.

  • 21 ministerial resignations;
  • just five of the 13 Bills which the Government has said it needs to pass ahead of Brexit have made it through Parliament;
  • civil service turnover has spiked, costing up to £74 million each year and draining vital knowledge and expertise from the civil service.

Most importantly, with civil servants across Whitehall being deployed in large numbers to focus on Brexit, the risk of major projects – of which there are currently 133 - not being delivered on time and on budget is growing.

Of course, the scale of the challenge Brexit presents places demands on government irrespective of which party is in charge. But let us set Brexit aside for a moment, and consider just a few of the additional challenges facing this Government. It soon becomes clear who is to blame for the current mess.

HS2 is fragile, with talk of spiralling costs and even cancellation of the second phase. Universal Credit is beset by considerable technical problems, resulting in great distress to hundreds of thousands of people. NHS reorganisation is shambolic and causing disruption to healthcare delivery. The Northern Powerhouse has ran out of power, if it ever had any. The housing and social care crises persist, while stagnant pay remains and social mobility has collapsed.

Some of these problems pre-date this Government, but their persistence and severity is a consequence of successive Tory government’s treading the same well-worn path: eye-catching but ultimately shambolic flagship policies combined with cuts to the public sector.

Crucially, this Tory mess is being further exacerbated by the Government’s cack-handed approach to Brexit and the uncertainty it has created - to say nothing on the approximately £171,000 per hour spent on “No Deal” preparations.

The result is that the civil service is being pushed to breaking point. Yet any solution to this first requires a resolution of the standoff in the Commons, which Theresa May and her Government are making all but impossible.

Only Labour can break this double bind.

Firstly, the Labour Party’s proposals for a jobs-first Brexit – based on a customs unions and a new single market-deal - has the possibility to unite Parliament and the majority of the population, leading us out of the deadlock now binding government.

This in turn will bring much-needed certainty to the civil service, which for the first time in nearly a decade will also benefit from a government prepared to provide the proper support and leadership it needs to be truly effective.

And our ambition to be a genuinely transformative government opens up a range of new potential solutions to the problems outlined above that cannot be fixed by status-quo thinking. The housing crisis, for example, will require significant public sector investment to provide the affordable housing that is now so sorely lacking.

Yet beyond the immediate crisis of governance, there lies a deeper decline in public trust in in the way in which our country is being ran and in our political institutions. This is the true meaning of Brexit, and in a democratic society this breakdown of consent is deeply worrying.

Labour is the only Party that acknowledges this, and has proposals to tackle it head on.

We will end austerity, restore a public realm reduced by privatisation and marketisation, and return a sense of agency to the population, large sections of whom feel no sense of control over their lives.

The Labour Party’s plan to deliver a Constitutional Convention in government opens up the possibility of fundamentally transforming politics in the UK. Trust in democracy must be rebuilt, accountability established, and new ways of doing politics brought into being.

The scale of the challenge before us requires this type of new thinking. A failure of government and the state cannot fixed by repeating the failed the processes that led to it, no matter how many times Theresa May tries.

It’s time to change politics to change the country. It’s time for a Labour government.


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