David Cameron sees himself as a great reformer. He believes that his government can achieve great things, fix ‘Broken Britain’ (whatever that may mean) and restore the damage done after 13 years of Labour government.
To an extent, he is right. The Coalition has great, ambitious plans. The motives are good, the intention is the right one and the goal is commendable. In an ideal world, this sort of reforming attitude and desire would be met with rapturous applause and all-round support.
However, we do not live in an ideal world, and Mr Cameron certainly does not govern in an ideal world. Politics is a strange beast, one that does not function as you would expect.
Take the so-called U-turns that the Coalition has been accused of lately. Ed Miliband is only too happy to reel them off – Forests, NHS, bin collections, justice and so on. The basic criticism of the Government has been that they have published proposals, consulted experts, changed the Bills and moved on. In any other field of life, that would be considered the best way of addressing reform. Surely consulting with those best placed to give advice is a good thing?
As Mr Cameron himself said last week, surely it would be daft to try and reform our services without listening to and consulting with the experts? But he is continually slammed from those on the Left for being unable to get it right the first time round. It matters little that Ed Miliband offers nothing in return; he simply lists the U-turns and implies that he would be a much better Prime Minister, without actually offering an alternative or making a good reason to vote Labour.
More than that, however, and more than the lack of a Utopian world for Mr Cameron to govern in, is the problem of the traditional British mindset. The services that the Prime Minister is attempting to reform are at the heart of what many people feel makes Britain great – the NHS, forests, our military. You only have to look at the rise of charities such as Help for Heroes to see just how important a place the armed forces have in the British psyche.
Few will say that these areas do not need reform. Many back the calls for change and the call to move forward into the 21st century. Equally, however, many see these as national institutions which you mess with at your peril. The old Labour saying of ‘You can’t trust the Tories with the NHS’ is powerful as it cuts through politics and policies and goes right to the heart of the electorate.
Combine this sense of meddling with the best of Britain with the U-turn issue, and the Coalition has a problem. Both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, but the Tories in particular, need to be aware of this. The gung-ho attitude (think Ken Clarke, a hugely popular and influential Cabinet member) of some members of the front bench has its moments, but it also begins to grate with people after a while.
As has been said before, the reforms and the changes the Government is proposing could be genuinely transformative. The problem that keeps arising however is that David Cameron cannot seem to get them off the ground without a battle, which makes them less and less appealing. Each mini-conflict is a piece in the wider jigsaw of this fight, and they are mounting up.
The Government and David Cameron must continue to press forward with reform – to turn back now would be nothing short of a catastrophe. However they must do so with caution, and an acknowledgement that they are dealing with serious issues in a world that is far than ideal.
The American conservative commentator George Will is quoted as saying ‘conservatism is true’, by which he means that traditional conservatism is grounded in reality, an awareness of were people are at and a recognition of the need to keep your feet on the ground. For the time being, that would be a good position for the Conservatives to take.