I have no idea whether there will be a change of Government on May 5th, though readers may guess that I have a preference. If there is, I caught last week a fresh glimpse of the rough justice that can ensue. Let me explain.
In 1979, there was a change of Government and I became a Health Minister. For the following two years, I would travel up and down the country opening Health Centres, Medical Centres, Birth Centres and Family Planning Centres. I knew perfectly well that these high quality facilities had been planned for by my predecessor, who had extracted the funds for them from the Treasury (who really run this country whoever wins) and under whose benign leadership building had commenced. However, my speech would ungraciously make little reference to where the true credit lay, and, when I unveiled the plaque, it bore my name and not my predecessors.
The pendulum swung in 1997. Thereafter, for the next two years, I would watch on my TV screen as John Prescott and his underlings opened schemes which I had conceived as Housing Minister. Where the plaque should have born the name of the member for North West Hampshire, there was inscribed the City of Hull. Where the speech should have recognised my input, there would sometimes be a disobliging reference to 18 wasted years.
Such are the swings and roundabouts of political life and we should not grumble too much about it. (Though where Ministers had taken the credit for schemes that their Party had actually opposed in Opposition, my blood pressure was marginally raised.)
Recently, to their credit, two projects that were started in the early 1990’s and were completed this year took a different approach. These were the Liverpool and Birmingham Housing Action Trusts, which regenerated at a cost of some £500 million some poor quality inner city housing. They asked back both the Conservative Ministers who had started them and the Labour Ministers who had followed them through. We compared notes about the Treasury, and made speeches heaping praise on each other. These projects had survived not only a change of Government, but changes in control of the local authority which was a key partner.
At the end of the second celebration, a Liverpudlian came up to me and shared with me her confusion.
“I’ve been watching the Budget debate on the telly and listening to you folks beating the living daylights out of each other; and now you all come along here and tell us that you agree on the important issues of health, housing and education in the inner city. What is going on?”
A good question, I thought.