Saturday, 18 June 2011

In the Land of the Muppets

The Lib Dems technically "lost" the constituency of York at the last election - boundary changes made it notionally one of their seats, but when it came to it the Tories won by a significant margin. But that hasn't stopped them from aping the eponymous Duke of the same city in the famous children's song where he "marched them up to the top of the hill, then marched them down again."

Again and again in recent months we have seen just how appallingly bad the Coalition Government is for lack of foresight and planning. Of note - the supposedly cost-cutting student fees increases which were meant to deliver savings, except that by bringing them in at the same time as allowing universities to charge up to £9,000 a year, the cost of upfront loans is now prohibitively expensive to the Government to the tune of no less than £1,000 million per year more than anticipated.

Which the Muppet, and which the puppet?
Linked to this was their pandering to rightwing myths about non-existent social security benefits by slashing the numbers of overseas students, a move which will mean several billions lost in both education fees and money coming into the UK from abroad. Not only does this ignore the benefits to Britain of potentially influential people from other countries being educated here at their own cost, but it will possibly bankrupt some universities and deny even costly educational opportunities to British students. Now this is being reversed in a desparate attempt to shore up the gap in funding from student loans.

Then came the NHS debacle, which the Coalition's "partners" are fighting with each other over trying to claim which of them has "won" after their faux "listening exercise". And meanwhile the revised plans quietly remove the obligation on the state to provide universal healthcare to its citizens.

And now this - in the middle of negotiations on public sector pensions with the trade unions, Chief Secretary of the Treasury, Danny Alexander, jumped the gun and boldly announced to a thinktank's conference that employees' contributions would rise by 3.2% of income and members would have to work an extra year. Again, the Con Dems have echoed and pandered to myths about "gold plated" public sector pensions, when in fact the average pension paid to a public sector pensioner was just £6,500 p.a. in 2009/10  They also ignored the fact that by increasing pension contributions, it would deter many from saving in the first place, leaving the state to pay more when they did finally retire but would be entirely dependent on state pensions and benefits.

So, after an understandable outcry and threats of sustained strike action from the trade unions, what has happened now? Ooops! Danny has changed his mind and decided to go back to the table with the unions. On one level, good as it may mean some chance to stop some of this nonsense, and all power to the unions for being instrumental in achieving this.

But this is not a listening Government, as it cravenly claims each time it backtracks on some insensitivity or botch up. Rather, it is a disorganised, thoughtless and ideologically fundamentalist regime intent on rapidly "changing everything by 2015 " so deeply that it would take decades to reverse the increasingly market-orientated "reforms" introduced across the public sector at great cost to citizens' wellbeing and the public purse. Even if the public comprehensively rejects the ill-thought up "Big Society", the Coalition's rush is about ensuring that we will be stuck with it for decades to come, regardless of our wishes or the irreversible damage done to so many long established public services in the meantime.

Danny's nick name is Beaker, owing to his striking resemblance to the carrot-topped Muppet of the same name. Clearly, in the comedy of errors that passes for the Coalition, the resemblance is increasingly more than physical. Poor chap, he must be exhausted by the constant U-turning, totally out of his depth as he spins for his ungrateful Puppet Masters, Cameron and Clegg.

Appropriate indeed, then, is this performance of Coldplay's "Yellow ", a paean to anxious confusion and hesitant hurry, sung by none other than Beaker the Muppet himself. And of course, yellow is the jaundiced colour of the Lib Dems, in more than one sense.

Yep, go Danny boy...How he must miss those days thinking up press releases on red squirrel conservation for the Cairngorms national park.

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