So what does Blair’s Britain look like after 1,000 days of Labour?
In Labour’s 1997 General Election Manifesto, Tony Blair signed a ten point ‘contract with the people’, pledging to ‘modernise Britain’.
1,000 days into his time as Prime Minister seems an appropriate occasion to revisit the contract, to see what progress Labour has made in honouring the ten promises which make it up.
|THE REPORT CARD|
|Education – a poor start. Most school classes are now bigger than 2 years ago.|
|Tax – promise kept (technically), but at the cost of investment in hospitals and schools.|
|Economy – reduced competitiveness and an unnecessary recession in manufacturing.|
|Jobs – some from New Deal, but lack of commitment on euro threatens many more.|
|Health – in crisis. Fewer nurses, fewer beds, more people waiting.|
|Law & Order – best forgotten. Rising crime, falling police numbers.|
|Welfare – tinkering at edges, but the vulnerable have been hit.|
|Transport – u-turns on traffic levels and air traffic privatisation.|
|Reform – devolution in theory, if not always in spirit.|
|World – what has happened to our ‘leadership’ in Europe? What has happened to the ‘ethical dimension’ in our foreign policy?|
My biggest worries are over education, health and crime. These three issues affect us all.
Where will we be in fifty years’ time if we don’t provide our young with a decent education? Yet education spending is falling as a percentage of our national income. The government have trumpeted an extra ‘£19 billion’ for education. But this figure is distorted by double and triple counting, by the omission of inflation, and by dependence on Standard Spending Assessments – which are spending permissions for local councils, not actual funding. Imagine how pleased my daughter would be if I told her that her pocket money was doubling – but that I wasn’t going to fund the increase!
Some infant classes are lower than they were last year. But in every other case (secondary classes, juniors, many infant classes, nurseries), class sizes have gone up.
A bit like waiting lists for the health service, really – the government have gone hell for leather for one random target, without realising that what is really needed is a genuine increase in funding for these crucial public services.
I’m trying to think of something positive to say about the way Labour have handled the health service … and I’m failing miserably. No two ways about it – the NHS is in crisis. The number of nurses is falling, there is a chronic bed shortage, and even before this winter’s flu outbreak there were far more people waiting for attention in the NHS than when Labour came to power.
They are desperately juggling figures to make things look good. In-patient waiting lists have fallen by 86,000 (hurrah!); out-patient waiting lists have more than doubled, from 248,000 to 512,000 (boo!). And the panto season still hasn’t finished …
We haven’t actually had a bad winter for flu; but this Labour government has left the NHS as ill-prepared for a rise in demand as it was under the Tories.
They have done little better combating the rise in crime bequeathed by John Major. Violent crimes up by 5%, robberies up by 19% over the year to last September. A sensible person might ask whether this could be due to the fall in police numbers. We have lost 70 police officers in Essex in the two years to March 1999. No doubt that will save someone some money. And it will cost someone some money, too – if not worse.
We might (if pressed very hard) forgive Labour for failing our public services if they were winning other battles. But they’re not. Jack Straw is trying to restrict the right to jury trial, despite having opposed such a move in opposition. Conversely, Labour promised us a referendum on voting reform, and haven’t held it.
We were promised an ethical foreign policy. And now we find we are providing spare parts to maintain a campaign of terror in Zimbabwe.
The problem this government seems to have is that they can’t tell the difference between having aspirations and making promises in opposition, and exercising the power to fulfil them in government. They mouth warm words about improving health, education and the police force, apparently unaware that if they really wanted to, they could make a difference.
I said earlier that my biggest worries are over our schools, our hospitals, and crime, because these three issues affect us all. Let me end with another worry – pensions. Because most of us will end up as pensioners.
This year’s pension increase – 75 pence – is a disgrace to a civilised nation. Our national finances are buoyant, our national insurance fund has a surplus of £15 billion – yet the government will not halt the decline in the state pension the Tories started.
When our MPs voted on January 17th on a Liberal Democrat motion – “This House believes that an increase of 75p in the state retirement pension in April 2000 would be inadequate” – 300 Labour MPs voted against. They evidently think 75 pence is enough. The Tories abstained. They obviously don’t know whether 75 pence is enough or not. Only the Liberal Democrats stood up for pensioners.
Come to think of it, it’s only the Liberal Democrats who are standing up for increased spending on our police forces, our schools, and our hospitals.