Been so much stuff in the media about U-turns lately that its become rather 'old hat'. I'm featuring in an article in today's Western Mail by the ever-thoughtful David Williamson. As always I'm very content with what he wrote. What usually happens is that we talk freely for a good 10 minutes about an issue, and he picks a line or two to suit. Its always risky from my position because he makes me think aloud. Dangerous practise.
Question is how should we look at Gov't U-turns (or changing of minds in response to public reaction). Since Mrs T made a virtue out of of not U-turning, its generally portrayed as a sign of weakness. But is it? In passing, I reckon Mrs T would have been better off if she had U-turned on the Community Charge/Poll Tax! Whatever, lets take some of the budget proposals.
Firstly the most important change of policy - the decision not to impose 20% VAT on static caravans. Its no secret to those I discussed this with that I did not think this was a great idea. I understand why it was put forward. Logical that mobile and static caravans should be treated equally - but it would be too disruptive, particularly to manufacturing businesses. The new proposal for a 5% rate is sensible. So I'm rather pleased with this U-turn. I still remember the first time I was left up a tree without a paddle - on the proposals to change forestry ownership. I thought that proposal was right too, said so publicly and was well stranded by a U-turn - the day after I wrote to 250 constituents backing it. But it was what the people wanted, and no-one mentioned my embarrassment to me - not one single person.
Secondly the pasty tax. I agreed with this proposal and went on national TV to support it. My constituency has lots of good fish and chip shops! The U-turn left me stranded. But I can see that it was a highly unpopular. Left me stranded - but its what the people wanted. I'll soon get over my discomfort - already have! Would we really have been right to push on with it. Perhaps its better to be wise than strong. Much the same can be said about the changes to charitable donations.
The big changes in the budget have been left intact. This is being completely ignored by the media, and there is little public debate about it. There has been no U-turn on the proposals to equalise the level of tax free allowances across age groups, taking huge numbers of people out of the tax system altogether - or about the important Corporation Tax changes.
OK, so the media have had a field day over what were less important issues in the budget. But Mrs D, who is a good judge of these things doesn't like it at all. She likes the idea of 'you turn if you want to, I'm not'. But I'm left asking myself whether this is all a bit of old fashioned 'macho'. At a very basic philosophical level, every Gov't makes proposals which it comes to regret, but its only a very stupid Gov't which carries on after realising it. Discuss.