Polly Toynbee, from Todays Guardian.
David Cameron's hundred days is up next week – and the honeymoon is over. YouGov shows Labour on 37%, Tories on 42%. Approval for the coalition is down from a June peak of +21 to +1 and falling. What makes this extraordinary is that leaderless Labour, semi-absent from the fray, scores more than the Tories won at the election. With Labour likely to choose a clever leader, Cameron might just be as short-lived as his predecessor.
This year is not another 1979 or 1997. Thatcher and Blair won landslides, but Cameron didn't win at all – and that will matter more each day in 2011, the bitterest year of cuts ever known. He has no mandate for the profound changes that he promises will affect "our whole way of life". He won by deceit – hugging huskies, "let the sunshine in", vote blue go green, embracing the poor, rebranding nastiness and detoxifying the Thatcher legacy. That's how he succeeded, by making nice.
Nick Clegg's rose garden blessing gave good cover, though as Lib Dem support sinks, so does its value. Marshal Pétain's usefulness didn't last long. The real hatchets of power – Francis Maude and George Osborne – are the vanguard radicals who feel no need of niceness. Who would have thought Cameron would be less constrained by his coalition partners than Margaret Thatcher was in her first term by her own wet tendency?
Let's just recall how extraordinarily radical this 100-day government promises to be. On the eve of the election there was no Cameron pledge to shrink the state to below 40%, smaller than Mrs Thatcher achieved. The explosive figure of a 25% cut from every government department - and 40% from some – was never spoken. All was to be done by backroom efficiency, none from the front line. The nice guy never said he would cut all benefits by 2% more every year in perpetuity by changing the inflation measure. Or that housing benefit cuts would see 750,000 private tenants no longer able to afford their rent.
As a million jobs are lost in the public sector, benefit cuts to "make work pay" will fall hard as five unemployed already chase every vacancy. Abolition of speed cameras will not feel like a civil liberty to the families of the extra road deaths. Soon all will see that the NHS is not protected at all, with £20bn cuts already, another £440m sliced out for social care and signs already of damage: 63 community mental health nurses have just been quietly cut in Oxfordshire, lifeline for the desperate. None of this was mentioned in the Mr Nice election campaign.
Trepidation is the current public mood. Ben Page of Mori finds UK citizens the most gloomy about the future in the developed world. Other reports this week find consumer confidence plummeting deeper and faster here than anywhere else. David Blanchflower reports the second-highest ever rise in fear of unemployment. Where Cameron and Osborne have been most successful is in frightening people, not in itself a useful economic tool. People are saving, not spending, and fear of fear itself grips economists looking at these indicators. There may be no double dip, but growth is set to be too slow to meet Larry Summers's "escape velocity" for take-off.
However, fear can be useful politically. Cameron's government has skilfully created a hate campaign directed at the public sector. The release by Eric Pickles this week of all the spending data from his department and its quangos was admirable openness – but mainly a crafty assault on everything spent by public servants. Anecdotes work. People are easily persuaded that the handful of civil servants paid more than the prime minister are typical and that Indian head massages are the norm. Never mind that the public sector is paid less than the private sector. Income Data Services records it time and again: graduates entering public service will be less well off than those in the private sector, despite pensions.
Never mind that benefit fraud is only 0.7% of the benefit bill, Cameron's crackdown smears all claimants by association. The tax evasion bill is at least £70bn, according to Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK, and the IMF puts it higher. But HM Revenue and Customs has had to cut one in eight staff, with more to go. As for expenses, the public sector can be lax, but where is a comparison with lavish corporate hospitality at Wimbledon, Twickenham or the grand prix all paid for from peoples' pension funds? A public employees' £539 group awayday to Blackpool Pleasure Beach is less than the champagne bill for a public company's beano at the races. As for calling in Philip Green to weed out public excess, wouldn't he be better used spilling the beans on tax avoidance?
Cameron has performed a political conjuring trick of some brilliance in diverting voters' wrath from the gamblers of high finance to public servants' excess. By persuading people it was public spending not the bankers' crash that wrecked the economy, he has won the narrative so far – no mean feat. The question now is whether his undoubted political talents can carry him through the hurricanes that will follow October's spending review. So far, he has convinced the public that the deficit is the overwhelming priority, and cuts are necessary – and mainly Labour's fault for overspending. But coalition approval is falling before the real cuts have struck.
The prime minister remains something of an enigma. Is he steely enough? One Nation, "We're all in this together" is the persona he plainly enjoys. Unlike Thatcher, he likes to be liked. He couldn't even bear to snatch milk from infants' mouths, or the pricey bus passes from wealthier old folk.
But having spelled out the numbers, he will have to do far worse. Take this week's improbable example: cutting £2bn from the £9bn Ministry of Justice budget is equivalent to abolishing all prisons or all law courts. Possible, or perhaps not after all? Expect the confusion over cuts in Building Schools for the Future to be multiplied over and over in the coming year. The new Labour leader has miles of lost ground to make up, with difficult questions to answer convincingly – starting with "What would you do?". But opposition has rarely looked easier.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree ... lic-sector