THE natural consequence of any political appointment is disappointment.
You will recall that before Lord Lundy (who was set to be the next Prime Minister but three, but "Who was too Freely Moved to Tears, and thereby ruined his Political Career") was sent off to govern New South Wales, his grandpapa the Duke uttered the terrible words: "Sir! You have disappointed us!"
We're all disappointed now, or should be. The Tories lost more than 400 seats and 12 councils, and even Boris Johnson's win in London was seen as a rebuke to David Cameron's interpretation of Conservatism. UKIP's vote went up 13%, but the party made no gains. The Liberal Democrats... well, it may be kinder simply to draw a veil over the worst result the party has had since it came into existence.
North of the Border, the SNP took Angus and Dundee, gained a record number of seats and increased its share of the vote, not an obvious cause for disappointment. Indeed, by any normal judgment, the Nationalists won. But having told everyone that their win would consist of the party taking control of Glasgow, there is now a certain amount of huffiness that the media took them at their word, and thus don't regard this as an unqualified victory.
So, everyone else having been disappointed, the winners must surely be the Labour Party? On the face of it, that seems to be true, but a increase of 800 seats and a share of around 38% of the vote is, historically, no reason to rejoice. Around 40% of the vote is the rule of thumb for a Westminster majority, and Ed Miliband's percentage is almost exactly the same as both William Hague (who added a stonking 1300 or so councillors) and Michael Howard managed to achieve in local elections. And look how the Tories fared at the subsequent General Elections.
The most disappointing thing for the Labour Party is, or ought to be, that this result keeps both Eds in their posts, reminding everyone that they were pulling the levers in the Government that got us into this mess. Mr Miliband actually wrote its manifesto. It ought also to remind people that Ed Balls's policy consists of cutting 1% less than George Osborne, very slightly more slowly. And for all his talk of emulating President Obama's plans, "investment for growth" there compared with "austerity" here consists of the Americans putting a lower percentage into public spending than the Coalition.
If Labour supporters should be disappointed that their party will thus continue up a self-evidently blind alley, without realising the need to reinvent and refresh itself for the electorate, the Tories can take very little more cheer from the rejigging of priorities which the Prime Minister seems to have been trying to signal over the weekend.
No matter what your views on same-sex marriage or House of Lords reform, the idea that they were guaranteed hits, or even anything you'd expect to hear in the Top 75 chart of policies, was lunacy. It's equal lunacy, though, to make the headline for your rethink the fact that you're kicking them into the long grass.
By all means quietly shove them on the back burner (along with the expensive HS2 rail project, which produces nothing except the hatred of Tory voters in the Cotswolds), but the focus for the Tories should be policies aimed at the "striving classes" or, in Mr Miliband's excellent phrase – successful because everyone thinks it applies to them – "the squeezed middle".
Some of these are good, notably making flexible working easier (Mr Cameron is thought particularly to have alienated working mothers, who stand to benefit most from changes here). It is also essential to make it easier to fire underperforming workers, something the unions will obviously dislike, but actually an essential factor in reducing unemployment. Firms are more likely to hire new staff if they are not restricted by punitive employment regulations; when Mr Balls points to America's better record on recovery (where, I repeat, they are spending less public money) this is what he ignores, yet it is the primary factor in the US's reduction of unemployment.
The problem for the Coalition is that it may already be too late. These measures, and others in the Tory manifesto, such as liberalising planning and introducing cuts – overall cuts in public spending haven't, in fact, started yet – should have been in place by now, getting the pain and the difficult decisions out of the way in the first half of the term.
Instead the Government backed down on even trivial savings, such as the sale of the forests and free school milk, and has yet to tackle public sector overstaffing. Meanwhile it reneged on promises, such as a referendum on the EU, of central importance to their core constituency. The question is not whether Mr Cameron has disappointed those voters, but whether he has left it too late to win them back.
The solution on crime and immigration is not wheezes like a British version of the FBI or reinforcing and extending the surveillance state Labour was so keen to introduce, and which the Tories then rightly opposed. Public scepticism about the Border Control Agency is not that government is failing to spend enough money, or employ enough people. Quite the contrary.
It is frustration that, when Tesco can make a Tannoy announcement and get all trained staff to the front line in two minutes, there seems to be no manager, armed with a timetable of flights and a duty roster, capable of doing the same thing with passport inspectors.
The big disappointment of the night for Mr Cameron – Mr Johnson's win in the London mayoral election – may serve as a reminder to the Prime Minister of qualities that people are prepared to vote for, even in a Tory. They are opposing EU and other bureaucratic regulations that hinder freedom and prosperity, reducing taxes, really seeing all the voters as being "in it together", and running a competent administration that does what it said it would. But I fear we'll continue to be disappointed, because the Government will continue to disappoint.
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