Until recently the main charge laid against the Coalition Government had been one of unfairness.
Since George Osborne's ill-judged Budget, the predominant narrative has changed to one of incompetence.
Yesterday's humiliating U-turn over the type of fighter planes being ordered for the Royal Navy's new aircraft carriers merely reinforced the impression of a government that is muddled in its thinking and lacks a proper understanding of how its major spending departments work.
Two years ago the decision to scrap the order for F-35B jump jets, planned by Labour, formed a central plank of the Government's Strategic Defence and Security Review. David Cameron lambasted Labour as "badly wrong" in opting for them, even though the more advanced F-35C was still as work in progress and would necessitate major modifications to the carrier design. Now Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has been forced to return to Labour's jump jets, after the F-35C hit a number of snags. These would have resulted in a cost overrun of more than £1 billion and could have delayed delivery until 2023.
Yesterday Mr Hammond tried to make the best of a bad job by saying the Coalition's decision had been the right one at the time. That is highly questionable. Though the F-35C would have had a superior combat radius and weapons payload, it could not have landed on French carriers and was widely regarded as a high-risk option. To help pay for it, Britain's Harrier fleet was sold to the US at a knock-down price, leaving the country without carrier cover.
The Government's own figure for the cost of cancelling the project is £100 million, including more than £40m already spent and "penalty clauses". It is hard to see why penalties are payable on an aircraft that is further away from production now than when it was ordered two years ago.
Labour too has little to crow about. Its procurement policy was a shambles that left a huge black hole in the defence budget and the MoD is still living with the consequences. Even so, Mr Cameron was too quick to deride the policy that he is now defending.
Mr Hammond made a good Transport Secretary and, having been unexpectedly promoted to the defence brief after the unscheduled departure of Liam Fox, deserves some sympathy, having had nothing to do with the original decision. The same cannot be said of his casual dismissal of the importance of the historic names of the battalions that make up the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
When the Scottish regiments were amalgamated into one in 2005, there was a solemn promise that their history and traditions would be preserved in the names of the battalions and the cap badges they wore. A "golden thread" of geographical association and regimental pride would run through the new body. This week the Defence Secretary appears to be have been forced into a shame-faced retreat on this issue. He must now confirm that, in the event of a further amalgamation, the name of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders – the regiment that lost nearly 7000 officers and other ranks in the First World War and was awarded the Wilkinson Sword of Peace for its work in the Northern Ireland peace process – will live on in some form.
The handling of these two issues adds to the sense of a government that has lost its sureness of touch, a government adrift.
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