You may be interested to see this article which I wrote for Tribune magazine last week:
“Pause. Listen, and engage”. This was the hollow tone of the Prime Minister in April this year as he created the mother of all PR stunts, and announced he would put on hold the Health and Social Care Bill.
If this government is characterised by anything it has to be humiliation. Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, was forced into the chamber earlier this year to humiliatingly announce the unpopular bill had been put on hold. Deserted by colleagues with just the chief whip and one or two other figures sitting beside him showing support it was the first of many such occurrences.
If Lansley’s ‘pause, listen engage’ exercise, was embarrassing then Tory MP, Nadine Dorries’, attempt at introducing an amendment on abortion was positively mortifying.
Dorries is at the forefront of a controversial plan to limit advice given to pregnant women considering terminations.
And last Wednesday she threw the PM of piste with her question during PMQ’s when she asked him: “How is it that the Liberal Democrats, with fewer than nine per cent of MPs, seem to be running the Government?”
Somewhat perturbed he answered bashfully and announced Dorries was clearly ‘frustrated.’ Cue a chamber bursting of raucous laughter and a blushing Dorries left humiliated as the butt of the class joke.
Yet the true joke has to be on the government who just 24 hours before this had back peddled faster than the sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur could circumnavigate the globe.
Although No.10’s U-turn reflected that the argument put forward by Dorries was completely flawed, it also showed their flaky approach to their own legislation.
Further scrutiny, of her proposal caused it to collapse. Dorries had argued that organisations such as British Pregnancy Advisory Service [BPAS] and Marie Stopes should be stripped of their exclusive responsibility for counselling on the basis that they have a financial interest in advising women to have abortions.
Both groups are paid millions by the NHS to carry out terminations – and so to profit from the process as Dorries suggested is an ultimately flawed argument.
Both the BPAS and Marie Stopes are not-for-profit registered charities that have no financial stake in encouraging abortions. Had the government sought to investigate this further it almost certainly wouldn’t have supported this in the first place.
The back pedalling occurred amid a bonfire of opposition. The roaring fire, akin to the extravagant displays put on each year by the Lewes Borough Bonfire Society, threatened to further destabilise the already fragile Tory led coalition and its flawed plan.
As an art of how to do politics, this isn’t a good example. Above all else one must be bold and confident of introducing plans and especially so when it is this controversial.
You must invite key stakeholders on the journey with you ensuring you receive their support from the start. Instead the government had alienated the very people it needed support from the most.
If this bill is a barometer of the government’s rude health then the emergency bell should be ringing in everyone’s ears. This is a government characterised by uncertainty, ritual humiliation (and that’s of its own people), flaky support of its own legislation and much back peddling.
If we pause, listen and engage our ears enough we can just hear squeaks from Number 10; it’s the spokes turning on Cameron’s cycling machine as he pedals faster and faster to nowhere.