Portland’s Annual Policy Review 2012 – organised by James O’Shaughnessy, chief policy adviser at Portland and former director for policy for Prime Minister David Cameron – warns of major challenges ahead for the Tory and Liberal Democrat Coalition partners.
Following the fall-out from the Government’s withdrawal of legislation to reform the House of Lords, David Cameron and Nick Clegg were reported to have ordered a mini review of progress against the 2010 Coalition agreement and what is left to achieve.
Before the official version can appear, Portland has taken a line-by-line approach to present to politicians and voters a comprehensive view of how the government measures up against its own objectives.
The major findings of our Review are:
- The Government has successfully delivered its targets in the areas of defence and education but progress has badly stalled in energy/environment and the constitutional agenda.
- The balance between the two parties across government is uneven, with the Lib Dems enjoying greatest influence over economic and energy policy but so far offering little input on education and the Big Society.
- There are numerous unresolved issues which the Coalition will need to be address in the second half of the term, chief among which are banking reform, airport capacity and the changes to electoral boundaries.
Minister for Government Policy Oliver Letwin has provided a foreword to the review, and Portland staff have contributed essays looking at twelve policy areas. They identify the Government’s achievements, where it has fallen short, and where events have intruded onto the planned project.
James O’Shaughnessy’s introduction to the Review sets out five lessons for future policy-making from the first half of this Parliament:
- Strong principles are not enough, as the child benefit and health reforms have demonstrated. Successful policy needs a complete political strategy alongside it.
- Reform of the public sector is desirable but risky. In straitened times the government is relying on policy changes to deliver better results, but much of this depends on the private and voluntary sectors delivering, which are inherently outside their control.
- No policy that offends either party’s base will go anywhere. The wound of tuition fees is too raw, which is why House of Lords reform have fallen and quite probably the boundary changes too.
- Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg will need to differentiate their policy offer as the election gets closer, but timing is everything. Come apart too soon and the government will find it hard to push any significant policy through; wait too long and Labour will be able to run a ‘plague on both their houses’ campaign.
- Expect the unexpected, particularly on Europe. A worsening crisis in the Eurozone could threaten the government’s fiscal strategy, the glue that binds the Coalition. And any Euro-meltdown would raise the issue of EU membership, the policy area where the parties differ most.
James O’Shaughnessy said
“Every government has ups and downs. This one is no different. Most of them will be forgotten if the Government gets the big decisions right by 2015, and that’s what this Review looks at. The quality of its content reflects the insights for which Portland and its staff are renowned.”
Tim Allan, Portland’s Managing Director, said
“What Portland’s clients want to know is where the Government is going. Our team, led by James, have shown they can answer that with confidence.”
Oliver Letwin, in his foreword, says
“The remarkable thing about this Coalition Government is that the scale of ambition remains undiminished despite all of the economic difficulties under which Britain and the world labour.”
* The Portland Policy Review is the result of contributions from a range of staff across the company. Opinions and analysis in each of the essays reflect only the views of the individuals who authored them.