The government recently produced their own annual report, patting themselves on the back for fulfilling their 1997 election promises.
But behind the spin and the gloss, one cannot escape the fact that contrary to the New Labour election anthem ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, many things have actually got worse – in particular our public services.
The spin doctors claim that billions of pounds are being poured into education, health and the police force. The reality is less encouraging.
Labour’s 1997 manifesto promised to ‘Save the NHS’. Their first promise was to get 100,000 people off waiting lists. Two and a quarter years later, in England, that figure still has not been achieved. Worse, waiting lists to get on to waiting lists have doubled.
Investment in the NHS has dropped: up to April this year, investment was nearly £500 million lower each year than it would have been on the projections of the outgoing Conservative Government. NHS Trusts and Health Authorities in England have started this financial year £163 million in debt.
‘Education, education, education’ said Tony Blair before the last election, promising to raise the proportion of national income spent on education.
What has actually happened? In Labour’s first year in office, according to the Audit Commission’s latest figures, spending per pupil in England fell by £53 per primary school pupil and by £40 per secondary school pupil.
In Labour’s second year, according to the Department for Education and Employment’s latest estimate, education spending in England fell in real terms by £44 million.
Labour’s manifesto pledge for universal provision for three-year-olds has vanished into thin air.
We were promised smaller class sizes – but what has happened? The average class size in nursery classes is still worse than it was in 1997 under the last Conservative Government. The average class size for 8-11 year olds has gone up. 31.8% of primary school children are still in classes of more than thirty and class sizes in secondary schools are now higher than at any time in the last 20 years.
Despite promises to get more police officers “back on the beat” the total number of police officers has been falling. Last year the number of officers in England and Wales fell by 793 – a total fall of 1,043 since the General Election.
And it is not only our public services which have suffered.
There has been no national transport legislation passed in the two years since Labour came to office. The Government has failed to ban fur farming and has continued to licence fur farms despite huge public support for them to be banned. They have failed to implement legislation to protect our wildlife. Since Labour came to power, over 600 of the UK top wildlife sites have been destroyed or damaged. In dealing with genetically modified food, the Government have consistently put the interests of big business before public concerns.
The Government’s record on benefits and pensions is lamentable. They have taken money from lone parents and their children, from widows and from the sick and disabled – benefit cuts worth billions of pounds just in order to cut income tax by a penny in the pound. So far, Britain isn’t getting fairer under Labour. Labour was elected to help the poor, the disadvantaged and the vulnerable, but the gap between the richest and the poorest is continuing to grow.
Civil liberties have had a poor two years. The fundamental civil liberty of the right to trial by jury is threatened, the draft Freedom of Information Bill has been significantly watered down, and plans for a voucher system for the support of asylum seekers will be costly, unworkable and will treat many traumatised people badly.
The Home Office has become a disaster area. Incompetence and misfortune has brought chaos in the Passport Agency, the publishing of the names and addresses of police informants in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report, and a series of highly critical reports from the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
One of the Government’s few plus points to date is their more positive approach to European issues since May 1997; but their continuing vacillation over the single currency has allowed eurosceptics and extremists to dominate the debate.
Promises to increase investment in our schools, hospitals and police forces have not been kept largely because of New Labour’s foolish commitment to stick to Tory spending plans for two years.
It is almost as if Tony Blair and his friends still don’t really believe they are in Government; they are holding their breath, afraid that one bold move could bring the whole dream to an end. Well, we are half way through this government’s term, and we’re still waiting for things to get better. For goodness’ sake, wake up, Mr Blair, and Be Bold!