Last year, in these pages, I set out my vision for improving the quality of our public services. It’s simple. I want us to end once and for all the closed state monopoly where central government decides what you get, and how you get it. In its place, I want truly open public services, where people can choose the hospitals and schools they go to, with the right information at their fingertips to make that choice; where different providers, from the private and voluntary sectors, can come in and offer new services that people can access free; where funding is directed to helping the most disadvantaged; and where these services are truly accountable to local people, not to politicians or bureaucrats in Whitehall.
Our public servants work incredibly hard, and yet not enough people get the great service they have paid for and have a right to expect. I want to bring to everyone the choice and standards that the best provide. That means not just a change in structures but a genuine culture shift that changes the attitude of public service providers to make them more responsive to users, and makes users feel truly empowered.
For many governments there comes a desperately sad moment after which nothing is ever quite the same again, when trust and confidence evaporates and all that remains is a long battle of attrition.
For Harold Wilson, that moment struck with the devaluation crisis of 1967; for John Major, it was Black Wednesday in 1992. Tony Blair’s came with the realisation that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction and that his casus belli for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a lie.
There is now a strong possibility that historians will identify the events of the past two weeks – the lethal combination of George Osborne’s shambolic Budget with the shocking revelation that access to the Prime Minister and government policy is up for sale – as the climacteric of the Cameron/Clegg Coalition.
There are already signs of a shift in the political landscape, just as there were after the events of 1992 and 2003. David Cameron’s claim that his Government represents the interests of Britain as a whole, so movingly articulated in the early days, now feels baseless and cynical, replaced by the growing perception that he represents nothing more than a tiny coterie of rich and privileged men. Meanwhile, Labour has started to show clear gains in the polls.
Nick Cohen has a characteristically good article on “anti-Semitism of the Left” in the April edition of Standpoint. The argument he advances is a fair one. Anti-Semitism has been found across the political spectrum. In Britain the anti-Semitism of the Left was often directed at bankers and financiers. This was the anti-Semitism of Belloc and Chesterton.
But there was also an anti-Semitism of the generally decent liberal elite. In the introduction to Harold Nicolson’s Diaries and Letters (utterly addictive – I go back to them time and again), his son Nigel, wrote that his father “knew that he belonged to an elite, an elite more of intelligence and achievement than of birth, and he tended to feel that people outside that elite had something wrong with them: Business-men, for example, the humbler type of schoolmaster or clergyman, most women, actors, most Americans, Jews, all coloured or Levantine peoples, and the great mass of the middle and working classes.”
That’s the news from the OECD, anyway. They’ve published their estimate of how much the British economy grew by in the first quarter of this year, and, well, it didn’t grow at all. It shrank. If their estimates are confirmed when the Office for National Statistics publishes its own first estimate next month, then we will officially have entered a double-dip recession. And to think that, just a few weeks ago, there were whispers about “green shoots”.
This is bad news for George Osborne’s reelection strategy. The Coalition’s plan called for austerity now, and the nation was fully prepared for two or three years of falling incomes. But this will make it clear what we were told in the Autumn statement: we face perhaps another four or five years of pain. In the entire time since the Chancellor came to No 10 in the spring of 2010, the economy has grown by a total of about 0.6 per cent of GDP. That’s less than it grew in the last quarter of Alistair Darling’s time in No 11.
The conversation among Conservatives this morning is about the communications disaster that has gripped Downing Street. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. There is talk of this being the moment when David Cameron kissed goodbye to winning the next election. The dire headlines have got Tory MPs rattled, but it is the performances on their own side that cause them particular anguish. They want a promise that Francis Maude won’t be allowed anywhere near a television camera again – “managerial genius, but keep him back stage,” they say. They wish Mr Cameron would stop trying to pretend he isn’t a county gent with a fondness for toff sports, arguing – probably rightly – that voters prefer politicians who are what they are. They would like to see a few more people around the top duo who know what it’s like to clean toilets, to balance out the Rupert/Danny/Matthew metropolitan brain boxes. But what they really want is more Mike Penning.
Bidding started at a paltry £1 for the dilapidated two-bedroom terrace in Ferryhill Station, Co Durham, a former mining village.
But the house, which has been empty for at least 10 years, does require some renovating.
All of the windows are boarded up and vandals have sprayed graffiti on the walls. The interior is just as bad, with no ceilings or a kitchen leading neighbours to describe it simply as a “shell”.
Meanwhile, a nearby train line just 100 yards away makes so much noise it causes ornaments to rattle off the mantelpiece.
But property experts say the young family which snapped it up, could make a handsome profit if they decide to do it up and sell.