David Cameron said recently that the government had not wasted a single day since it was elected.
But with his administration reaching its 100th day in office on Saturday, what has it actually achieved?
It has been implementing the manifesto, or “the good book” as Cameron called it when briefing reporters on his recent trip to Asia.
But assembling a list of the most important 100 things that the government has done since it was elected shows that all is not quite as straightforward as Cameron implies. While the manifesto has provided a reliable roadmap in many respects, in others the government has diverted quite strikingly from what was on offer to the electorate in May.
And, even though Cameron’s first Conservative-only government has enjoyed a relatively benign political climate, with the opposition in disarray, its record since May also reveals quite a lot about its weaknesses.
Cameron stood for election promising to control spending and cut income tax, and the July budget – by far the most important statement from the government since its election – confirmed the departmental spending cuts and increase in the income tax threshold heralded in the manifesto.
Europe has been another priority. The European Union referendum bill has already had a second reading in the Commons, as has the education and adoption bill, the Scotland bill and the welfare reform and work bill. A raft of other bills were mentioned in the Queen’s speech, and Cameron has been particularly vocal on the subject of NHS reform (seven-day working) and controlling immigration.
All of this was in Cameron’s “good book”. But the Tory manifesto was woefully unspecific on the detail of where the planned cuts would fall, and ministers who contrived to imply during the election campaign that they had no idea how the welfare budget would be slashed have, in the last 100 days, now shown their hand. The 100-day audit is dominated by grim austerity measures that will impact on the living standards of millions.
Welfare claimants are not the only people to be penalised by government decisions not fully advertised in the manifesto. The government’s planned trade union legislation is more restrictive than expected, the BBC has found itself subject to a surprise “agreement” (more like a gun to the head) forcing it to fund free TV licences for the over-75s and libertarians will be concerned by plans to curtail the Freedom of Information Act.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper claimed recently that the government had broken nine promises since the election and that this showed ministers had “lied” during the campaign. These claims are contested, but certainly some of the items on the government’s 100-day list amount to U-turns, and the cuts to tax credits are hard to square with what Cameron promised on this front during the campaign.
But while the government has turned out to be rather more Tory than the manifesto implied in some respects, in others it has also been rather more Labour. The centrepiece of the budget was a “national living wage”, an audacious attempt to trump Labour on low pay. George Osborne, the chancellor, reportedly believes in an adopt or kill approach to opposition policy, and there have been other examples where ministers have gone with ‘adopt’. These reflect a genuine enthusiasm in some corners of government for ‘blue collar Conservatism’, although the claim that the Tories are the workers’ party is still treated with incredulity by opponents.
Even though the government has been in power for just more than three months, it has already had to postpone or shelve major initiatives. Ministers have their explanations, although it is embarrassing that proposals such as northern powerhouse rail modernisation and the cap on social care costs, which were an important part of the pre-election offer, have now taken a back seat.
As the 100-days audit shows, in some respects the government has been constrained by parliamentary weakness. A vote on relaxing the ban on hunting was postponed at the last minute because the Tories realised they would lose, and a vote on English votes for English laws, originally expected before the summer recess, was postponed after the plans attracted a surprising amount of opposition from government MPs. The government is also taking its time over publishing plans to replace the Human Rights Act, mindful that it will be hard to get them through parliament.
Cameron told reporters that ministers could follow “the good book” because they no longer had to compromise with coalition partners. That’s correct, and the 100-day audit is also revealing because it contains measures that would never have got past the Liberal Democrats, confounding claims they had minimal influence in the last government.
This article was written by Andrew Sparrow, for theguardian.com on Friday 14th August 2015 12.57 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010