A Wolves fan (insert here any team you don't like) turns up at A and E with two burn marks, one on either side of his head. ‘What happened to you?’ says the nurse ‘Oh’ said the fan in a deep black country accent ‘I was ironing my shirt and my 'phone rang. I got confused and accidentally put the iron up to my ear’. ‘But why the other burn?’ asks the nurse ‘Well’ he replies ‘I had to 'phone for an ambulance’.
Lady Bracknell: ‘To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.’
The point is that two mistakes add to up to more than one plus one.
This may be worrying the Coalition right now. On the same day as the Prime Minister has made some major adaptations to his NHS plans, a report by the Public Accounts Committee has underlined the growing likelihood that there will have also to be a substantial rethink about the reform of student finance and HE funding. My old colleague Conor Ryan offers his ideas to save the package here.
The Coalition was widely praised for the scale and ambition of its first year programme, although many people wondered whether changing so much at the same time as driving through austerity is such a good idea. But the flip side of ambition is the impression of hubris and a lack of realism as Andrew Lansley and the previously admirable David Willets are finding out to their cost.
Messaging is about building a washing line on which you can pin ideas and announcements so the public notices a pattern. But bad news works the same way; patterns get noticed and amplify problems. ‘Sleaze’ for example is more to do with Governments getting to the point where mud sticks than the actual level of misdemeanours.
Another area of vulnerability for the Government may be service failure. Last week we saw the problems with care home standards, but as regulators are cut back and Whitehall adopts the general approach of caveat emptor for public services users we may see examples in other areas. For example, as the education department massively scales down its capacity to intervene in, or turn round, failing schools, are parents yet ready to hear that it is their job not the Government’s to take action if their local school goes off the tracks?
This isn’t yet a crisis for the Coalition. Most people will welcome the pragmatism of Mr Cameron’s NHS statement today and his reputation as a centrist Conservative will only be reinforced if there are grumblings about caving in from his own back benchers.
But while on austerity the public view is that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs (although I suspect this will only last a few more months), it’s one thing to crack a yolk into a frying pan, another entirely to drop a box of eggs and then another and then another.
It’s only a guess but I suspect we may start to hear a new message from the Coalition as conference season nears: domestically the Government will be totally focussed on austerity and growth, meanwhile in other areas it will be a time for implementation and consolidation.
It is probably better to be a grim realist than an acccident prone revolutionary.
Fabian Wallace-Stephens (Foresight Lead)
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