One of the things I always liked about David Cameron from the word go was that he said what he meant, and meant what he said (I think he even said that in a press conference reply to… Martha Kearney, I think, early on in his leadership). Which is one of the reasons why I find the government’s dancing on the head of a pin and erratic decision-making and announcements so frustrating.
Sarah Wollaston, the GP chosen by open primary in Totnes, is a great asset to the Conservative party. She is rational, reasonable, sticks up for her constituents, adds a wealth of on the ground knowledge to the debate over public services, and articulates a strong message of ‘normal people need to know the government is on their side’. She has written a post on ConHome about the need for MPs to be able to comment as well as participate in the political process and debate. I think she’s right – for two reasons.
Firstly, that MPs are, despite everything about how very centralised and presidential our politics have become, elected to represent their constituents’ best interests. And secondly, because this sort of thing is getting beyond a joke:
It is not fair for MPs to have to carry a message, sometimes in the face of their beliefs or their preference or their constituents’ best interests, and for the government to then pull the rug out from under them. It’s happened over all sorts of things – forests, equal marriage, unfunded tax cuts, pasty/static caravan/charity taxes – and it damages two very important things.
It damages the reputation of any government for competence, narrative and direction. And it undermines the relationship that MPs have with their constituents. Most MPs I know have stopped sending immediate replies on controversial issues that their constituents contacted them on, or send a ‘on the one hand, on the other’ reply, because they simply don’t know whether the government is going to change its mind.
Once again, it comes back to a clear sense of direction, a clear narrative and a failure of the government and indeed the Conservative Party to issue and stick to clear lines to take.
I am all for governments that listen and take on board concerns and input from outside. But I can’t help but think that making so many rapid changes (that so often mean everyone is unhappy instead of just some people) is not conducive to ensuring people view the Conservatives as united, purposeful and on their side.