100 days ago this weekend, Labour party members were falling exhausted into their beds as the rest of the country was waking up to the first Conservative majority government in 18 years.
The first days of a government are not everything, but they are indicative of how the next few years will play out. With one eye on Labour, here are six key indicators which show how David Cameron’s first majority government has been spending its time.
1) An unreformed economy
The good news is that ‘long-term economic plan’ has been slowly phased out. But two months of rising unemployment should prompt the Tories to be cautious.
While 100 days is not enough to reform an economy, there is little indication that the government wants to tackle deep structural weaknesses. As IPPR pointed out, productivity growth is poor and would be helped by a shift in government priorities. It is to Chris Leslie’s credit as shadow chancellor that Labour may have found a suitable hook from which to regain some economic credibility.
2) Support scrapped for the poorest students
I care little for marginal debates on the left about free education and I do not think tuition fees are cruel or even bad. But the decision to end maintenance grants, which helped thousands like me just get through university, and replace them with loans is particularly cruel. It will disproportionately affect the poor and those who cannot rely on parents to bail them out. It is a messy compromise and, as Wes Streeting MP has written, means the poorest will graduate with the biggest debt.
3) Northern Powerhouse delayed
Not content with the ignominy of a Northern Powerhouse minister not knowing where the north is, the government’s vision for investment in the north has both left out the north-east and delayed significant rail upgrades. Surely it was not just an oft-used piece of rhetoric?
4) Welfare bill
The welfare bill ended up doing almost as much harm to the Labour party as it will to families. Impressively it even succeeded in turning Harriet Harman – who has committed her life to the Labour movement – into a fully paid-up member of the Conservative party, depending on how strong a grip on reality those you are talking to have.
An admirable lesson in parliamentary sleight-of-hand, the bill also legislated for a range of policies which Labour could never oppose (on apprenticeships, investment in ‘troubled families’, lower social housing rents). That the fallout has been focused on Labour and not the impact of the bill tells you how successful the Tories’ plan was.
5) A brutal leadership contest waiting to happen …
George Osborne’s stock has never been higher and has quietly been spreading his influence around Whitehall – a number of top ministers are former aides. That is nothing new for a powerful chancellor, but what is interesting is that David Cameron is almost entirely relaxed about it.
But troubles do lie ahead for the two if they think it will be a coronation for Osborne. His implied mockery of rival Boris Johnson during the budget revealed a distasteful sense of entitlement. Recent briefings which sought to pressure Cameron into confirming his departure date show Osborne’s rivals are ready for a fight.
6) … and a divided Labour party
Cameron’s biggest success could yet be one not of his own making. With a slim majority, and multiple Labour leadership candidates talking about aspiration and winning back Tory voters, he could have been forgiven for being a little worried back in May.
Then Jeremy Corbyn happened. There are plenty of columns elsewhere despairing at our drive off a cliff. But there is one thing to say: with a weak Labour party removed from the concerns of the people, the 1,795 days left between now and the next election could yet turn into another five years.
I won’t hold it against you if, next time you read an article like this on the first 100 days of a government, you would prefer it to be about a Labour one.
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