Thank God for the U-turn
For the first time in my life, we are living with a government that represents a majority of the votes cast at the last election.I have never before lived under a majority government (52 per cent of the electorate voted Conservative or Liberal Democrat in the 2010 election). However improbable the “lash up” that became today’s administration, it continues in power apparently without great threat – even fighting a by- election against itself in Eastleigh.
But what has perhaps attracted less attention is the rehabilitation of the U-turn. Under Labour, a U-turn represented terrible failure.
Ministers would stoop as they stumbled up Downing Street, burdened by the knowledge that a treasured policy had failed. A U-turn represented a party defeat, whatever the rights and wrongs of it.
These days it’s all change. The coalition positively wallows in U-turns, hardly a week goes by without one. And, quite suddenly the U-turn has become a rather praiseworthy entity.
It indicates, almost invariably, that common sense has prevailed. It almost certainly also indicates that somewhere there’s been a tremendous debate between coalition partners. Surely not an unhealthy development.
Take the moment at the beginning of the month when Michael Gove abandoned his treasured and hugely flaunted plan to abandon GCSEs in favour of a baccalaureate. Six months after he announced it, the education secretary concluded that his plan was unworkable. His U-turn was almost universally welcomed.
Today it’s been David Cameron’s turn in India. His immigration U-turn changed the policy of clamping down on immigration from India to encouraging Indian students and business to come to Britain in ever larger numbers.
Maybe the U-turn has come of age simply because of the live debate that naturally exists within a coalition. But who wants a return to single-party government elected by 40 per cent of the electorate or less, for whom a U-turn represent abject failure?
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