With Tynwald in summer recess, it’s time for some reflection and an assessment of the performance of those in Allan Bell’s Council of Ministers.
This was the Council of Ministers launched by Mr Bell with the slogan of a Government of National Unity.
It’s a phrase he’s now distancing himself from, but these assessments will include a GNU rating just to see how each minister performs on that ethos.
Given that Peter Karran has gone, following his Kamikaze mission at the Department of Education and Children, we’ll give him a GNU rating of 1 (he gets that for consistently taking the heat off other ministers by his own cliché-riddled, substance-absent, out-of-his depth performance).
He’s also been dealt with in detail in this blog elsewhere, so let’s move on next to take a look at Chris Robertshaw.
If you’ve ever heard one of his speeches, then you’ll probably agree that taking a look is better than listening. His voice is pleasingly soporific, but the problem is that it goes on longer than an Olympic opening ceremony and
much of the content of what he says is aural equivalent of that bit in the middle where all the teams are wheeled out and the Queen picks at her nails.
Brevity is often discarded in favour of verbosity by politicians, so we must show some sort of forgiveness and, to be fair, in his appearance on www.mytv.im he gets to the point reasonably well when talking about welfare reform. This could be down to good editing, given the 1,700 word initial statement he used to announce his escalator principle.
By addressing the financial situation facing the government, you have to give him credit.
Principles are all well and good. The real test will come when we are shown the detail currently absent.
He will need to use so far unrevealed political wiliness to convince fellow ministers, let alone backbenchers, that cutting a benefit in a way that will make lots of voters unhappy is the way forward.
Of course, he’s saying all the right things at the moment, about targeting those taking advantage of the system and ensuring the money goes to those who genuinely need it.
But when it comes down to introducing means testing on specific benefits – undoubtedly with a view to reducing the bill – there will be MHKs who will have ants in their political pants.
There’s no meat on the bones at present. It’s a novel approach to ask us to debate a principle, but remember the DSC, as part of a principle of becoming more efficient, plans to close a care home for the elderly. That wasn’t hugely popular.
It will be when we see how the welfare principles will be applied to practicalities that we will have a more meaningful debate, taking us beyond the usual ‘benefit scroungers’ arguments that are already coming to the fore now.
Interestingly, following the initial consultation on these broad welfare principles, Mr Robertshaw will report back in the first instance to the Council of Ministers Social Policy and Children’s Committee.
He should be fairly confident of a warm reception at that stage. He’s the chairman of the committee, something not hugely picked up on at the time of the announcement, probably because it’s mentioned about 1,500 words in to his 1,700 word statement.
But any proposals will also have to get past the rest of Tynwald and, importantly, the public.
The idea that we can’t expect to keep taxes down and benefits up is one that it is difficult to argue with.
However, given that the government’s main cost saving targets have been the likes of pre-school education, libraries and care homes, while spending £49m to invest in a UK film studio, people may wonder what is being done apart from targeting the needy.
Certainly, I look forward to Mr Robertshaw’s ministerial colleagues backing him up by cutting down on their departmental excesses and convincing us that the £49m investment in Pinewood Studios is neither a vanity project for a government still entranced by the film industry, nor a move to avoid unwanted examination of taxation arrangements in an industry which seemed to be dwindling here anyway.
A confident start by a minister who certainly appears untroubled by any doubts about how right he is, but he could find practicality soon brings down principle.
GNU Rating: 6. He’s stuck with Bell’s austerity principles and has drawn some flak by his cuts. But you wonder how happy his cabinet colleagues will be if he asks them to support something a bit tricky.
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