Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Going native

How long does it take for Conservative ministers to go native? The Home Office civil servants judged about a year and three quarters. They pulled out of their drawer marked "wish list" a rewarming of the proposals for the new power to track people's internet activity which they put to earlier Labour ministers, and which the then Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition and a concerned citizenry booted into touch.

It even came today, according to BBC reports, to Theresa May saying that "ordinary people would have nothing to fear". The argument that "if you aren't guilty you have nothing to fear" is the standard argument employed by all police states. Despite her wording, I imagine Mrs May is a little more sophisticated than this and she either expressed herself poorly or has been reported badly.

Already the government is in retreat, with earlier credible briefings by the Home Office now contradicted by Nick Clegg, in particular with respect to whether a court warrant would be required before looking through the private affairs of individuals.

Almost certainly George Osborne's mishandled granny tax (mishandled first by pretending at the time that it was just a "simplification", and secondly by making the change in the same budget which reduced the top rate of tax, when he could have just left it for a year) was also somewhere in the Treasury's wish list. This misjudgement cost him the kudos which he should have received for the commendable political decision to raise the income tax threshold closer to the long term target of £10,000.

Every government goes through periods of difficulty, but the ones over the last month are almost entirely self-inflicted. On the particular issue of internet privacy, the government is helped by the difficulties Labour will have in driving forward serious opposition given their earlier involvement in the issue when in government.

So far as concerns the current government and their performance over the past month, there is a difference between taking necessary but difficult decisions and shooting yourself in the foot: on this, backbenchers have a right to feel restless. Furthermore, is it any wonder that the population is so disillusioned with politicians, who on matters of principle appear to have little compunction in ignoring their election manifesto as well as their past opposition.