View From The House - 29th June 2000
Reprinted From The Lichfield Mercury
Harold Wilson, former prime minister (for my younger readers !), pipe smoker and Gannex coat wearer, famously said "A week is a long time in politics". And when another prime minister, Harold Macmillan, was asked by a young journalist after a long dinner what can most easily steer a government off course, he answered "Events, dear boy. Events". In short, politics is unpredictable.
Whether the Prime Minister's slow hand clap at the Women's Institute will constitute a sea change in people's attitudes, only time will tell. (I am trying to convince a mate of mine whom I went to university with and now works at Number 10 to persuade Tony Blair to speak to the Mothers' Union next. Now that will be the test!) But just as "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword" (based on St Mathew chapter 26, verse 52 - I mention this as Lichfield is a Cathedral City, and I am currently in the mood for quotations as you can tell), so Tony Blair is finding "He who lives by political spin shall find himself spinning out of orbit". In short, what has happened is that Britain has awoken to political hype. They have seen through Mr Alastair Campbell and the cohorts of spin doctors.
Philip Gould, the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff summed it up perfectly in a revealing (but leaked) memo to Alastair Campbell. It read: "From Philip to Alastair: Once again TB is pandering, lacking conviction, unable to hold to a position for more than a few weeks, lacking the guts to be able to tough it out . . . TB . . . lacks conviction, he's all spin and presentation, he just says things to please people not because he believes them. TB has not delivered. He is out of touch."
Well, when William Hague read that out in Prime Minister's Question Time a couple of weeks back 'TB' couldn't deny its authenticity. It just surprises me that Mr Gould would put such a thing in writing. But what surprises me more is that despite the fact the economy is so strong and the Chancellor is raking in the cash from VAT, Corporation Tax, Income Tax, and, of course, petrol taxes, so little is being spent in delivering Government promises. And, as we have all seen in Lichfield and Burntwood, it has actually got worse over the last 3 years: The Magistrates Court, closed; the Police Station, closed at night and fewer policemen on the streets; and closure hanging over services at the Victoria Hospital and the Hammerwich Hospital. Where is the money going? Presumably in a huge tax hand-out just before the General Election. That may make us all temporarily richer, but it will fuel inflation and do nothing for the services we need to keep in Staffordshire.
And it is not just in Lichfield that things have gone downhill. Britain' NHS has now plummeted to 18th place in the league of health services across the world. I had to smile when "TB" justified this in Prime Minister's Question Time by saying that this isn't "18th out of about 20; we are 18th out of more than 190 countries in the world". (Hansard)
Well that's alright, then. It's good to know that our health service is better than that of Malawi and of Guatemala, I suppose.
But can Tony Blair at least claim credit for the strong economy? Sadly not, though he probably will. The British economy is firmly linked to that of the United States which is currently booming. (Which is more than can be said for continental Europe's) It is not that the pound is strong against the euro, it is that the euro is weak against all major world currencies. The pound has weakened against the dollar. "The strong pound" is a myth and our joining the weak euro is no quick fix at all for business which would see our home economy decline as a consequence.
Still, at least we have the South Staffordshire Health Authority's strategic report to look forward to. Let's all hope that the sword of Damocles currently hanging over the future of the Maternity and Dialysis units at the Victoria Hospital will finally be lifted.