There are many things to fault in Nick Clegg’s attempt to excuse the abysmal outcome for the coalition in last week’s council elections (The centre will hold, 7 May). Here is just one: Clegg’s repetition of the tired old coalition mantra that they are sorting out “Labour’s mess”. In recent months, the coalition had cut down its use of this mantra realising, perhaps, that the public were sick of hearing it. But since 3 May, coalition ministers have recited it at every opportunity and, in doing so, are being economical with the truth on three counts.
First, the 2008 recession was global, not of Labour’s making (any more than the current Europe-wide crisis is of the coalition’s making). Second, it’s true that Labour didn’t regulate the banks sufficiently, but at that same time, the Tories were calling for still greater deregulation, and would have made the “mess” even worse. And third, the current mess is entirely of the coalition’s making. Through economic naivety and incompetence, a desire to dismantle the state, and a predilection for pandering to the rich, Osborne and Alexander have managed to turn Darling’s incipient recovery in 2010 into a double-dip recession in 2012. This is a coalition mess of the first order.
•?Tim Montgomerie may believe that “much rightwingery [is] popular” (Right turn for Cameron, 7 May) but he fails to notice that, nothwithstanding Boris’ victory over Ken, the electorate throughout the rest of the country, and in particular for the London assembly, clearly indicated a desire for a more centre-oriented politics. He should remember that the Conservatives have no electoral mandate to introduce many of the radical, rightward changes they desire, like the ones they forced on to the NHS, yet they plough on regardless. If they continue in this vein, ignoring the voting public, they will almost certainly lose the next general election.
•?The Conservative right is now calling for “faster, longer incarceration of serious offenders”. After a promising start, following the formation of this coalition government, most of the debate on criminal justice has already relapsed into the dreary language of punishment and competition. The government should resist any temptation to regress still further towards the failed policies of the past. The Labour party still has no visible policies of its own. Criminal justice is in a precarious situation and a clear, principled sense of direction based on prevention, rehabilitation, problem-solving and restoration is now urgently needed. It would be consistent with the older traditions of the Conservative party, and all three main parties should try to articulate it and ideally seek some agreement around it.
•?So rightwing Tories think the reason for the drubbing in local elections is because of Lords reform and gay marriage (Tory right calls for end to barmy policies and a return to core values, 5 May)? Yes, that’ll be the reason; nothing to do with back-door privatisation of the NHS, cuts in welfare for the most vulnerable, tax cuts for the wealthiest, reductions in police numbers, record unemployment, attacks on teachers etc …
Richmond, North Yorkshire
•?”Loss of funds sinks former pit village’s ‘big society’ plans” all for the want of a measly £350,000 annual grant; less than the tax cut some of the overpaid were given by the Tories in the last budget (Report, 7 May). In the same paper I then read that the Ashmolean museum has received a grant of £5.9m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (Museum granted £5.9m for Manet work, 7 May). How is it that we can find endless amounts of money to fund the purchase of antiquities and works of art (and wars in far away countries), but the only way to save our economy from ruin is to cut a £350k grant from a successful community programme? It strikes me that one is an investment in the future and one is pandering to the interests of a very small minority.
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
•?A few months ago a group of socialists drew attention to the need for a voice for the north by launching the Hannah Mitchell Foundation. That call is emphasised by the local election outcomes. Labour did well in Wales, the south and east, and made an impression in the south-west, but the extent of support for the coalition is plummeting in the north.
Some major northern cities started these elections without any Tory councillors – Sheffield and Newcastle-upon-Tyne among them. Liverpool and Manchester, also Tory-free, halved the representation of Liberal Democrats locally. Yet these cities continue to be the prime target for the onslaught of austerity. No investment to fill the holes in Bradford; public sector jobs hit hardest in areas where unemployment is already high and the insult to northern nurses and teachers of a suggestion they should take a pay cut and earn less than colleagues in the south.
As the coalition tears itself apart over House of Lords reform, is it not time for Labour to spell out the links between our remote and centralised government, and the impact of this economic dictatorship? Reforming the House of Lords in a way that gives a stronger regional voice to the north (and to Wales, Scotland and the south-west) ought to be one of the options on the table.
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire