More than anything else, this government lacks purpose

by Pat McFadden

Last week I wrote that competence or the lack of it had become a key problem for the government.  A number of issues were responsible, beginning with the unnecessary government provoked petrol crisis and running up to the farcical inability of the home office to add up the number of days in three months when trying to deport Abu Qatada.  All of this means that politics is being looked at through a different lens compared with a couple of months ago.

This different context in which the government is no longer getting the benefit of the doubt lies behind the recent shift away from the Conservatives and towards Labour in recent opinion polls.

But this week, something even more serious than government competence came into question.  It is the government’s purpose.  If the coalition had one purpose it was supposed to be “sorting out” the economy through fiscal austerity.  There isn’t a debate or question time that goes by in the House of Commons without some reference to this from government ministers.  It’s the glue that holds the Tories and Liberals together – all that stuff about “sorting out Labour’s mess” and “working together in the national interest.”

Except it isn’t working.  The economy is back in recession.  All those Cameron and Osborne quotes about the economy being out of the danger zone look hopelessly, as the phrase of our times puts it, out of touch.

The whole justification for everything the government has done has been to restore economic growth.  But we don’t have growth.  The economy is shrinking.  We did have growth before the government set out on this road but since they came to office we only have 0.4% growth over two years and the economy is still 4.3% below its peak in the first quarter of 2008 – a sharp contrast with the United States which recovered its peak level of output last year and is now above that level.

It is one thing to put people and businesses through pain if it is producing results.  But if it isn’t, and you don’t know what you’re doing, that is quite another matter.

Every new government has a honeymoon period for a while.  Every newly defeated opposition will have to spend some time licking its wounds and not being listened to much.  But after two years a clearer picture of the government is emerging.

We know that Mr Cameron likes being prime minister but we are far less clear why.  What does he want power for?  In what ways does he really want to change Britain?

Rumour has it the prime minister recently asked top civil servant Jeremy Heywood “do I work for you or do you work for me?”  This is not a question that would have been asked of civil servants during the Blair years.  Whatever else may be said about those years, the government had a purpose and spent much time trying to ensure policy matched the purpose.  Leave aside the guff about new Labour control freakery.  Cameron’s belief in that lazy metropolitan critique led him to establish a deliberately weak No 10.  That decision has been coupled with an unwillingness or even worse an inability to map out a proper strategy for his government.  Governments need a driving purpose and a clear idea of what they are there for.

The first chicken for this government came home to roost when the prime minister found himself landed with a huge NHS reorganisation cooked up while his own office was asleep or sticking to the bizarre theory that they didn’t really need to know what government departments were up to (memo to PM – there is only one government and you have to answer for all that it does).  There have been other events since then and now the Tory party is desperately casting around for someone to impose direction and yes, whisper it, some control on what the government is doing.

Left without a central driving purpose the government has nothing to cling to other than the deficit reduction plan. But in the absence of growth and with the deficit plan not producing results, there’s an even more serious question for the government than competence.  It is the question of what this government is for.

Pat McFadden is Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East.

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22 Responses to “More than anything else, this government lacks purpose”

  1. The left never truly gets that for conservatives, government is not about having a vision of a land of milk and honey which it then sets about delivering. The vision for a better society, for a conservative, comes from the aspirations of millions of individuals and families seeking to make life better for themselves and (importantly) those around them.
    This is what Thatcher was getting at with her unfortunately-phrased ‘no such thing as society’ spiel, and what Cameron means when he says, ‘there is such a thing as society; it’s just not the same thing as the state.’ Government, on this view, is about enabling people to follow their own path (‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’) rather than trying to bend society to some central purpose. Indeed, I imagine many get rather worried when politicians (of all party stripes) talk about having a shared sense of national purpose.
    I haven’t explained that very well, I fear, but most conservatives will not consider it necessarily a terribly bad thing for a government to ‘lack purpose’. I think at the moment the government can probably be (justly) accused of far worse things …

  2. swatantra says:

    What this Govt failed to understand is that to grow you actually have to spend or invest money, whether you like it or not. Any small business person will tell you that even if you are down to your last penny. That means borrowing, from Banks, or the IMF. Ok the the interest rates are like payday loans, but there is no alternative. Austerity and savage cuts simply lead to a slow demise.
    The nly other alternative is to live within your means, that means the standard of living for everyone ricjh and poor would have to be cut by 50% and the British people would not be especially pleased with that.

  3. Stephen says:


    You have forgotten the other option which is to spend other people’s money. I’m surprised you have forgotten this as Labour has been very good at it.

    The government are approaching private sector companies to willing invest in the economy by ameliorating the economic climate. This is in contrast to Labour’s approach of coercion through taxation and spending on economic areas the great and good within the Labour administration consider worthwhile.

    I leave it to you to determine which is the slower but more effective route to take.

  4. james says:

    so swatantra can you give me chapter and verse of Labour’s tax and spend proposals – ie what they would do today if elected – and what the spending and interest rate projections are as tested by the OBR

  5. Chris says:

    Mark Stockwell

    I think the left gets it just fine. We just dont believe it…

    The problem is, whether under Maggie or Dave it’s not quite true… It’s about enabling just some, in particular those who already have a decent life, to improve themselves further. And of course this comes at the something of those who have little or none.

    When the economy is doing well then this can slide down towards those that have less as well but once we move toward (or into, as we now know) recession, the level at which people “improve themselves” moves higher.

    So now, we have the “squeezed middle” which Thatcher never had to worry too much about…but even then, how many miners, steelworkers, car workers found themselves more able to pursue “life, liberty…happiness”?

    To follow your own path you need the prospect of a decent wage from a decent job or, yes…even a chance to run a decent small business. Simply repeating the tired mantra that it was all Labour’s fault just won’t cut it…

    But the other difference from Thatcher’s time was that…whether you agreed with her or not…you always felt that she was both compentant and had focus.

    With Cameron and Osborne half the time they don’t know how to do it…the other half they don’t know what to do…

  6. Chris says:

    Lol…strange typo/spellcheck in my post…
    “something” should of course read “detriment”


  7. Ralph Baldwin says:

    The author has forgotton that this is a Coalition, and has made the mistake of not actually understanding the election result of 2010. He can be cheered by the fact I will now inform him there was no single party victory because the people were unhappy with all three.

    Also, Coalition Governments are easier to “play” when civil Servants choose to thus weakening the Government. After a weird authoritarian Labour regime under Brown cameron was careful along with Clegg to try and create a healthier and more open culture.

    They realised we had a crises in our democracy as well as our Economy, whilst labour is still in denial.

  8. Jane says:

    I am an admirer of MrMc Faddon but question much of what he has written. As to the double dip, he must know that for some time the BofE has lot confidence in the data produced by the ONS and has been keeping its own. Goldman Sachs and Ernst and Young state that recent survey data from BofE points up the flaws in the ONS methods too. I am not always happy with MPs spouting on the economy when they lack experience in such matters. If John McFall has said this I would have taken note but I really cannot listen to an MP not giving a balanced view on the figures.

    As to the Home Office. I have spent a career working in the Courts and I can assure you in this country we operate as the Home Office and the Foreign Office lawyers advised the Home Secretary. A three month period is up at midnight on the day prior to the judgement. Further, your argument has no value when we know that a person can appeal to the Grand Chamber even if the application is out of time. It does not necessarily mean that the case will be heard be it in or out of time. Further, I am quite sure that the lawyers liased with the ECHR throughout. If you really believe that the Home office has behaved improperly, you should be calling for the legal advice to the Home Secretary to be published. I myself find it distasteful that political capital is being made out of this complex andcase which successive governments have tried to resolve and have been thwarted so many times. In deed, instead of making political capital why don’t you start asking about legal aid for these continuous appeals. I know that France does not grant legal aid for such cases and that is why they can deport unwanted people so quickly.

    As to David Cameron’s statement “do I work for you?. Could this not have been a reminder to the civil servant who was in charge? I myself have used this phrase when someone forgot their position when speaking to me. Similarly, DC likes being PM. Is this a criticism as I myslef take it as being a good thing? Have you at all taken account of the fact that this is a coalition government? Surely this matters?

    Many of us are pleased that the NHS is changing. Regrettably we do not all live in metropolitan areas where NHS care is very good. My own hospital is ghastly – from experience and continual assessments by the CQC. The nearest A&E is some 18 miles away and is dreadful. Under the new proposals many of these large monstrosities will close and we will have smaller units which will act in the interests of the patient and not grossly overpaid medical staff.

    Why do you not acknowledge that whatever government was in office would be having a torrid time at the present with the difficulties in the Eurozone together with the huge deficit to deal with. All I hear are policies that would require additional borrowing and we out here are totally opposed to that. The only voice of sanity on the economy is from Alastair Darling. Why am I getting the feeling that the party loves opposition? Watching the commons, I am often horrified at the tone and nastiness exhibited from the opposition benches from people I once admired. I am left reeling and indeed questioning my own judgement and political persuasions

  9. Ralph Baldwin says:


    This is one of the best comments I have ever read in three years of blogging. Indeed I am afraid the once moral Party of the center left has changed, very much so.

    I left them as they have become unreasonably addicted to money and then even if they can choose a moral option will select an immoral one even if it places them at a disadvantage.

    I miss what was once a moral party very much. In my own conclusion I have decided to settle on the default political position of Conservatism as there is no moral alternative.

    All the best!

  10. Ian Stewart says:

    Ralph, sorry to see we can’t get you back, but surely you can see that Conservative morality is an oxymoron! If New Labour were addicted to money, what does that make this Cabinet of millionaires?
    This Coalition is in a frightful mess, and many of the cuts have yet to fully bite. The recession has hit just about every sector of society, Mayfair excepted. It all seems different to 2010, when the dashing young bucks took control.
    Ed M and Ed B are playing their hands well, and doing it in the right way, unlike the ever more shrill (and puce) Ham-Face, they state our case quietly and firmly, without bragging.

  11. Mark Stockwell says:


    I don’t really expect you to believe it. It’s really up to you whether you want to persist in some sort of Manichean myth-making whereby ‘Tories’ are all cast as wanting to grind the faces of the poor into the dust at every opportunity, cackling manically as they go.
    I would suggest, though, that if you troubled yourself at least to try to understand your political opponents a bit more, you might find it easier to oppose them effectively and (heaven forbid) constructively. I speak as someone who once argued with colleagues in the old Conservative Research Department (aka ‘the Tory lie machine’) that we should all have a working knowledge of Marx and Engels. (Nowadays, the advice would perhaps be better directed at the Labour Party… but that’s another matter …).

  12. Ian Stewart says:

    Mark, surely the point of power for any Conservative is to have it. Didn’t Iain Gilmour say as much all those years ago?

  13. madasafish says:

    I had a friend killed by the NHS: I say “killed” advisedly . He was one of several hundred killed through gross incompetence and negligence in Staffordshire. No-one was ever fired for it: the senior people were all promoted.

    Anyone who supports the structures that allowed that to happen – and turned a blind eye to the coverups that followed – is frankly unworthy to criticise any change a subsequent Government carries out.

  14. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:


    Have you ever had to sit in a room to a meeting that Council Officers will not give a title to, to sit there and have them produce a “file” on you? In that file they had an interesting assortment of useless junk. Their Monitoring Officer tried to imply that in my arguments (including demanding a member of Labour HQ get a real job after they requested money from me after Suspending me) and comments were actionable. Funny, because after the “inquisition” I requested a copy of the file for my Solicitor and it magically vanished. I even got a copy of an email from the same brainless Officer claiming the Leader had no second house quoting another Council Officer. They should have been objective, they should not be doing the dodgy cowardly Leaders dirty work for him and entering the political arena.

    My experience then of both Local Government and of Labour Councillors (not all just the Senior ones) is that they are totally corrupt or at the very least profoundly immoral and unprofessional.

    Now I made this case to the Deputy leader and Leader of the Labour Party, they had to choose him or me. They made their choice, they chose corruption.

    I will be joining the Conservatives. I will campaign for them after the GLA, I will stand at whatever level they wish. But one day I will return the favour upon the Labour Party and make Margaret Thatcher seem like a homesick hobbit in comparison.

    Harold Wilson stated that when Labour loses its morality it becomes obsolete, well you are feeling and experiencing how empty they truly are. The default position is conservative. Ken has been exposed for a fraud and a fake, I have seen your “Lefty” and “Right-wing” candidates for tomorrow, the first lot are immoral cold greedy hypocrites and the latter immoral cold bullies. That is your party future.

    I am lucky I’ll be with people who are straight about who and what they are…not deceivers, liars and corrupt hate filled and genuinely and thoroughly nasty people who will lead your Party now and in the future. The activists who are passionate have my complete sympathy as they will work hard and be treated as second rate members.

    Labour is dead.

  15. james says:

    I had a friend killed by the NHS: I say “killed” advisedly . He was one of several hundred killed through gross incompetence and negligence in Staffordshire. No-one was ever fired for it: the senior people were all promoted.

    This is borne out by Labour itself – – he cost the taxpayer half a million quid and is now a cllr in Stockport.

    Not one apology from him though about this and why he should have been elected – it was all very quiet about that at the election I believe.

  16. Anon E Mouse says:

    Clr Ralph Baldwin

    Whilst there can’t be many who can disagree with the majority of this post and whilst most people won’t be running to join the Conservative Party it really doesn’t matter with the likes of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls in the shadow cabinet.

    Those two unpleasant and frankly incompetent individuals just serve to remind the public how bad and unpopular the last useless Labour government was and will guarantee opposition for a long time to come….

  17. Ian

    Yes, I think that’s right but it’s more subtle than that: it’s almost as much about stopping the other lot having power – they’ll only go and muck everything up, you see?

    One of the truest expressions of this is the 1959 campaign slogan: ‘Life is better with the Conservatives – don’t let Labour ruin it.’ It’s not necessarily saying that the Conservatives are consciously doing anything in particular to make life better (although I’m sure their other campaigning material will have made some references to actual policies!) – it’s just saying life *is* better and voices the fear that Labour will come in with their new-fangled ideas and mess everything up.

  18. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    Anon E Mouse,

    After seeing the “methods” and “practices” these people employ I would not put anything at all past them. There are good people in the Labour party, and they have not realized what a monster it has truly become. I found out the hard way, i hope they find out without having to go through what I experienced which was more disturbing than anything I have ever experienced and that is saying a heck of a lot.

  19. Anon E Mouse says:

    Clr Ralph Baldwin

    The way they treated their own side did it for me. Alistair Darling and the “unleashing hell” remark and even the way Peter Watt who blogs here was just not acceptable for a working man’s party.

    The problem is that Labour are just too dogmatic I’m afraid. Over at LFF one of their major contributors, S***ik D*s condemns Rupert Murdoch in public yet has a full Sky Sports subscription and personally blogs about that.

    Labour call the Tories “toffs”, a position in life they didn’t choose, yet their own deputy leader is more landed gentry than anyone in the government.

    The hypocrisy stinks and the sooner the real working class get a grip and get the party back from those who have hijacked it the better….

    What happened to your fella?

  20. Ralph Baldwin says:

    I just discovered the full extent of the cruelty, stupidity and arrogance that they have become. Believing in nothing and prostitutes to lucrative Policy. The gentle ease and contentment of Labour councillors implimenting the Tory cuts (I actually voted against them lol which was my last act as an Independent Labour Councillor), the pleasure they take in attacking their own people and the way both elected and unelected merge into one eliminating democracy with blunt and clumsy bullying.

    I was a councillor for Labour once before and never witnessed the profound wickedness I witnessed over the last two years.

    So I am no to become a true Tory as there are no alternatives and though I will now support the Council on its very Blue moves (lol) my aim eventuallty will be to help Labour end its own miserable existence. They will do fairly well in the Locals but George Galloway showed they will not be voted for they will merely be a protest vote by people who in good consciounce have to vote for anything they can. Even though Labour does not represent them anymore.

    They represent nothing but the perpetuation of the closet family who lead the Party in the manner of a Chicago style outfit.

  21. Jull says:

    The time has passed, but instead of economic growth we still see deeper crisis. Looks like it is not still the end.

    Jull from

  22. Ed says:

    There are so many issues that this government are having. The coalition does not seem to have been the change that people were expecting.

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