George Eustice: Addressing public anxiety is shrewd

This week, the Government carried out several significant policy adjustments, from VAT on pasties and caravans to proposals to hold certain inquests in closed courts.

George Eustice: Addressing public anxiety is shrewd
George Eustice: Addressing public anxiety is shrewd

The announcements were dubbed 'U-turns' by the opposition and the media, but they were a shrewd move that could mark the beginning of the Government regaining control of the agenda after a turbulent couple of months.

They were significant because they represented a reconciliation with the electorate and demonstrated that George Osborne and David Cameron had acted on public concerns. Most importantly, the Government has emerged from its consultation on VAT changes with a package of measures that are genuinely improved, both from the situation as it is now and the previous proposals in the Budget.

Political leaders have always been nervous of being accused of changing their approach. Tony Blair said he had 'no reverse gear' and Margaret Thatcher said 'the lady's not for turning'. But the reality is that the 'U-turn' jibe is the last resort of opposition politicians who have been outmanoeuvred. When I joined the Conservative press office in 2003, shadow ministers were prone to taking to the airwaves to castigate Blair's government for so-called U-turns. It hadn't done the Conservative Party much good. I attempted to block such attacks and instead encouraged messages that related to the substance of the policy area, rather than meaningless attacks on the process behind it.

Cameron recognised that oppositions needed to show consistency. If you opposed the Government and it then listened and changed its mind, you got more credit by welcoming the change than you did by attacking it for its U-turn. The former approach makes you look like a government-in-waiting, but the latter reinforces the image of you as just an opposition party. Labour's press machine has yet to learn this lesson.

As I have said before, media sentiment is a bit like the weather. When it rains, it pours. The Government will understand that it has more work to do to regain control of the agenda. But this week was a good start.

George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron.

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