Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Party Leaders Are Battling to Secure a Place in History; Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Party Leaders Are Battling to Secure a Place in History; Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Linford

MOST Prime Ministers come into office hoping to go down in history as the leader of a "great reforming Government". History, however, shows that few manage to enter that exalted pantheon.

The standout exceptions in the 20th Century were Clement Attlee's Government of 1945-50, which founded the National Health Service and built the modern welfare state, and Margaret Thatcher's administration of 1979-90 which re-fashioned what until then had been known as the post-war economic consensus.

Tony Blair's New Labour Government elected in 1997 certainly had both the potential and the opportunity to join them, but will more likely be remembered as an administration that flattered to deceive in its failure to bring about lasting political change.

What all three had in common was that they all enjoyed huge majorities for most of their duration - a privilege that the voters have so far chosen to deny to the present incumbent of 10 Downing Street. Nevertheless, the fact that he has been forced to rely on Liberal Democrat support for his Parliamentary majority hasn't stopped David Cameron dreaming that he, too, could yet go down as a great reforming Prime Minster.

But if his speech on welfare reform earlier this week was anything to go by, his ambitions in this respect are more focused on what might happen if and when his party can govern on its own.

As a vision of what a Conservative-only Government might do if it got the chance, the speech was highly revealing - but whether it is a vision that could commend itself to the British electorate is another question.

Opinion polls may show that a majority of people are dissatisfied with the welfare system, but getting people to vote for more benefit cuts at a time of economic austerity will remain a tough political challenge.

Nick Clegg, by contrast, wants this current coalition administration to prove itself worthy of the "great reforming Government" tag.

It is hardly surprising, given that his party has waited 80 years for the chance for even a sniff of power and that, for him personally, it is almost certainly his one shot at glory. …

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