When is a policy impact assessment not a policy impact assessment?

Here’s a good question: when is a policy impact assessment not a policy impact assessment?

Answer: when you’re the Prime Minister around 10 months out from a General Election and want something to say about helping families.

This morning, as part of a suite of announcements related to families, the Independent is reporting David Cameron wants:

all government departments will have to assess the impact of policy on “supporting family life”. The assessment will sit alongside similar current tests for cost-effectiveness, equality and the environment, and Mr Cameron stressed that if they failed, they would “not be allowed to proceed”.

All very laudable, of course. But here’s what David Cameron had to say about equality impact assessments in a speech to the Confederation for British Industry in November 2012 (as noted by Neil Crowther):

We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy. We don’t need all this extra tick-box stuff… So I can tell you today we are calling time on equality impact assessments.

Today’s family impact assessment therefore begs at least 2 further questions to the title of this post:

  1. What’s the difference between families and equality?
  2. Are the people in Whitehall dealing with families stuff less smart than the people dealing with equalities stuff?
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Self-loathing closet Tory, moi?

I am becoming increasingly concerned about my tendency to tilt towards the right as I age. Today, for example, I found myself agreeing with Simon Jenkins who, it seems to me, nails it when he says, writing in The Guardian:

The British have never minded the ruling class doing what it says on the packet, provided some deference is shown to the bourgeoisie. Cameron has been adept at that. Public school charm, even with a touch of caddishness, as deployed by Cameron and Tony Blair, may be scorned by the Westminster club, with its distaste for charisma and celebrity. But when combined with humour and a self-deprecating confidence, it can carry a leader over the bumps and potholes of politics, where such men as John Major and Gordon Brown stumble and fall.

But it gets worse. Much, much worse. A friend emailed me the link to a Richard Littlejohn rant the other day, and this morning I plucked up the courage to read it. The central thrust: that it was entirely predictable that leftie Central London boroughs were amongst the very few to vote ‘yes’ in the AV referendum, and that this is microcosmic of how out of touch the residents of liberal Central and North London are with the rest of the UK public.

The terrible thing – terrible given how irrefutably odious Littlejohn can be – is that despite being a Guardian-reading resident of one of the culprit boroughs myself, I found it very hard to disagree, hard as I might try. Where shall I go for help?

Why is cutting funding to the VCS thought of as an “easy option”?

I’ve been puzzling over something David Cameron has said on a few occasions (including at Prime Minister’s Questions):

When it comes to looking at and trimming your budgets, don’t do the easy thing, which is to cut money to the voluntary bodies and organisations working in our communities.

Why would Cameron think that cutting money to the voluntary and community sector is the “easy thing”? I can think of 6 reasons why he may think that’s the case (it goes without saying I don’t agree with the points below):

  1. There is a perception that the work done in the VCS is not as vital as what others do
  2. The sector is less well organised than other sectors and so can’t defend itself
  3. The arrangements between the sector and local councils / commissioners aren’t as solid as they are with other non-public providers
  4. There isn’t generally the same quality of individuals in the VCS as there is elsewhere
  5. The sector is more dependent on commissioners than non-VCS providers, meaning it has to bend over backwards to make commissioners happy
  6. The attitude of the VCS means they’d be willing to do the same or more for less.

All of these reasons would be wrong, of course. But it’s an interesting thought experiment as to why the Prime Minister thinks what he does.

Cameron’s new language #irony highlight

Oh, Lord Young. One casual slip suggesting we’ve “never had it so good” and you’re gone.

There’s no messing with that David Cameron, is there? I mean, as he himself has said, he

believes, at this difficult time, politicians need to be careful with their choice of words – these words are as offensive as they are inaccurate.

It’s not the first time David Cameron has suggested politicians be careful with their language; the last time he said it, I noted he’d said it, and offered a few examples of his Cabinet colleagues who weren’t playing ball.

Even then, George Osborne followed up with a couple of belters of his own:

A welfare cheat is like a mugger who robs you on the street (source)

and

The recovery halted. The return of crippling economic instability. Britain back on the brink (source)

Even the quiet man of politics, Iain Duncan Smith, got in on the act, moralising about welfare recipients.

I don’t know about you, but it’s almost as if the Prime Minister has one rule for some and another rule for others.

Surprising, this, since we’re all in it together.

Giving power back to the people

This from David Cameron in Saturday’s Guardian:

This is a government that will give power back to the people

Sounds good. Which people?

One way of doing that is by spreading choice… [T]o give people an even wider choice we will increase competition in public services by inviting new providers in.

Ok. Power to individuals and some power to new providers. Who next?

Next, we’re giving more power to neighbourhoods.

Good stuff. Can’t go wrong there. And to finish?

No interference from on high – just real power for professionals.

Excellent. If you define “people” as individuals, providers, neighbourhoods and professionals, it’s virtually impossible not to give power away. Just add in politicians and civil servants and consider it job done, eh Dave?

David Cameron not being very Prime Ministerial, part 77

David Cameron has been out and about over the last 396 hours (#davefact: David Cameron was the inspiration for the Beatles’ “8 Days a Week”), of which he has spent 395 hours bemoaning Labour’s “negative campaign”:

[Cameron] launched his most personal attack yet on Gordon Brown, accusing the prime minister of the most “negative campaign anyone has fought in the history of modern British politics” and “making up untruth after untruth”. Suggesting Mr Brown had mislaid his “moral compass”, he added: “If this is the son of a preacher man, I do not know what we are hearing”.

Quite aside from the fact this is the man who brought you the £20K tombstone poster amongst many others, it’s not very Prime Ministerial to just moan about your opponents, is it? You could even suggest that it’s, well, negative campaigning.

(And what does that last bit even mean? “Son of a preacher man” is indeed a song, but just because a song is heard doesn’t mean the fictitious son of the preacher man is the one singing it.)

It’s a good job I didn’t start this series earlier – part 76 is here – otherwise all 4 of my readers would have this sort of thing at least, well, 8 days a week.

Still, if Cameron does become Prime Minister, we’ll at least have someone in office who can stay up all night and speak without notes.

Which is something, I guess.

David Cameron not being very Prime Ministerial, part 76

If you want to be Prime Minister, you have to act like a Prime Minister. That’s the fairly obvious view I take.

There are plenty of examples of David Cameron not fulfilling this basic requirement – my last post includes a few of them.

But I’ve only just seen a further example of it via AutismWales on Twitter now (the event actually took place in June 2009) in which he called the BNP:

retarded racists.

Now, the sentiment of the second half of that statement is correct. But that first part? Not something I’d expect from someone wishing to be Prime Minister.

Cameron throwing his toys out of the pram

David Cameron appears to be close to throwing his toys out of the pram.

As we approach polling day and the polling data keeps piling up, the possibility of a hung parliament (and all that entails) still looms large.

If there is a hung parliament, the basic point remains that Gordon Brown will still be Prime Minister on Friday morning. And David Cameron is none too happy about that, going so far as to say the Tories will ignore the guidelines the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service has drawn up.

As Sunder Katwala over at Liberal Conspiracy points out, the Conservative approach to a hung parliament is essentially to overlook the will of the electorate and say they’re in power anyway.

Thus, the toys are firmly out of the pram.

But this is part of a whole series of incidents which indicate to me David Cameron’s contempt of constitutional and procedural practice in order to further his ambitions for power. He suggests shamefully populist policies that ride roughshod over established convention (such as suggesting any non-elected Prime Minister has to hold an election with 6 months) and poorly thought through electoral reforms (such as equal constituency sizes).

He also took the liberty of making his speech on the day the election was announced before the election was even announced by the Prime Minister (see the timings on the Guardian’s liveblog from the day here).

This drive to seize power come what may, and in the face of a system of government that has stood up pretty well to the challenges it has faced in, say, the last 300 years, is pretty arrogant.

But what’s amusing about it (if such a thing could be thought of as amusing), is that Cameron is only in this position because of himself. In September 2008, his party was 28 points ahead in one poll. In the face of this government’s apparently discredited economic management, the fact that Britain is ‘broken’ and Gordon Brown is supposedly one of the most unpopular modern Prime Ministers, the fact that David Cameron hasn’t sealed the deal with the electorate is, frankly, astonishing.

Rather than looking around at the constitution and established practice as the answer to his power-seeking woes, therefore, perhaps he needs to look a little closer to home?