John Woodcock: PM's actions must match his words

A fine bit of rhetoric can get you a long way, but governments risk coming unstuck if people catch on that the reality does not match up.

John Woodcock: PM's actions must match his words
John Woodcock: PM's actions must match his words

That is the problem confronting David Cameron on two fronts this week - immigration and the economy.

Of most immediate concern is how the Tories dig themselves out of the hole they have created by relaxing border controls on the sly despite promising to be tougher than Labour was in government. Theresa May has managed to mix herself a toxic cocktail: weakening government action in an area of great public concern over which the Conservatives made great political capital in opposition; failing to make public what ministers had sanctioned; then obfuscating over exactly who knew what, when; and attempting to pin blame on her own officials.

You know you are on the stickiest of wickets when the best line you have to fend off an angry press pack and House of Commons led by shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper is that you only secretly relaxed controls a little bit, not as much as the bad civil servant who deserves a good kicking. This is a perilous time for May and immigration minister Damian Green.

On a slightly slower burn, but of comparable concern to those around the Prime Minister, is how ministers avoid seeming woefully out of touch with growing calls for the Government to take the lead in helping shape the economy after the financial crash.

Labour leader Ed Miliband faced a barrage of criticism from Tory attack dogs when he staked out this territory in his party conference speech. But a few weeks on, the Government's language has changed starkly as it attempts to catch up with public demands for greater responsibility from those at the top as well as the bottom, and incentives that encourage businesses to create sustained growth.

Yet simply aping Labour's language by talking about 'moral markets' is not enough - governments need to show that they are prepared to act. And the bar for credible action is set higher than spending taxpayers' money trying to measure the public's 'general wellbeing'.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown

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