In recent weeks, No.10 Downing Street has been responsible for a number of headlines featuring the phrase “U-TURNS”. Notably, the commonly referred to ‘pasty tax’, ‘caravan tax’, and ‘charity tax’ policies have all been U-turned; or in other words largely altered or completely dropped. What is perhaps more interesting than these policies themselves, is the argument surrounding U-turns, and what they supposedly say about a Government.
The phrase “U-turn” started showing up in newspapers in the 70s when the Prime Minister Ted Heath scrapped his economic policy after rampant industrial action. The first opinion given on the issue came from within Heath’s own party, from the notorious “lady not for turning” herself: Margaret Thatcher. She and her fellow Tory right-siders saw it as a sign of weakness, and never forgave Heath for it. From then on, she made refusing to do a U-turn the ultimate test of political strength.
Since that day, Opposition parties and critical journalists have launched verbal attacks on Governments who choose to U-turn policies. They have described the action as “weak, “humiliating”, and “shambolic”. Thanks to the Coalition’s recent reversals, Labour MPs today are shouting this vocabulary at every opportunity, in attempt to sway the public’s opinion in their favour, during a time when political results are often marginal and every vote counts.
But, my question is, are these arguments fair? Is performing a political U-turn as embarrassing as performing one on the road, after the monotonous-voiced satnav lady informs you that you’re utterly lost, and it’s your only choice? I, contrary to those who often yell loudest, believe the answer is no.
Anyone who’s paid attention to the news recently, (shame on you if you haven’t!) will be aware of the stories surrounding the pasty, caravan, and charity taxes. Quite simply, they were proposed by the Government, but met with heavy rejection by both the industries involved and the general public. I see the Government’s subsequent decision to U-turn them not as a sign of defeat, but as a sign that the Government was doing the most important thing a Government can do: LISTENING. Democracy is for the people, by the people. I believe that a Government who considers the public’s opinion, and acts upon it, is the greatest kind. It is not weakness; the so-called “strength” of politicians who refuse to change their mind is nothing more than stubbornness and ignorance, which certainly does not fit the picture of a Government that strives for the people’s best interests.
Therefore, the point I’m trying to make is that I think yelling about the weakness of a Government who U-turns is a futile and somewhat petty argument for anyone trying to bad-mouth the Government of the day to use. There’s nothing worse (in my humble opinion) than someone who uses every possible move they can to slam the Government, just for the sake of it. The Opposition’s role isn’t simply to oppose absolutely everything; and of all the things they could challenge, it oughtn’t be the healthy democracy-promoting action of U-turning.
U-turns and decisions made/unmade on account of the people’s response should be praised in our society, not slandered. If the Government stopped listening to us, we might as well be living in a Dictatorship. And we don’t really want that, do we?
So if you’re reading this, members of the Labour party, do take note. Put good politics above petty party tactics, please.
For regular students and other people reading this (probably the more realistic audience, if I’m honest), just think about this viewpoint next time you hear someone ranting away about “weak, WEAK U-turns”, and with a little more enlightenment on the subject, share your understanding of the issue with others for a lovely bit of intellectual political debate, okay?