Comment: Fine start, but could do better

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The Independent Online
In all the places where senior civil servants choose to holiday this August the collective sighs of relief will be loud and long. Ever since 1 May and the arrival of new Labour masters and mistresses they have been working at breakneck speed, rushing through policy initiatives like there was no tomorrow. They are exhausted.

For ministers, too, the opportunity to slow the cultural revolution and pause for breath is welcome. This will have been a 100-day term like no other in modern British politics. Even Margaret Thatcher at her most energetic and relentless was no match for Tony Blair. Attempting to recall all the changes is akin to that moment on the television show The Generation Game where the winner has to remember all the prizes from the conveyor belt: operational independence for the Bank of England to set interest rates; major overhaul of financial regulation; students to pay part of their tuition fees; new code of conduct for ministers; windfall tax; ban on handguns; welfare to work; negotiation of IRA ceasefire. The list goes on and on and on. Hardly a day has passed without the announcement of a new scheme or a new inquiry or a new "task force". Anything the previous government languidly brushed aside, this one has pursued, including, last week alone, investigations into the death of Stephen Lawrence and Gulf war syndrome.

Everything, it seems, is open to review. Nothing is immune to scrutiny, no one is beyond reproach.

All of which is highly commendable. But, now the 100 days are almost up, it is time, surely, for a rest and not just for civil servants and ministers to recharge their batteries. Instead of patting themselves on the back - compared with the first 100 days of the last Labour administration to enjoy a large majority, that of Harold Wilson in 1964, theirs has been a resounding triumph - they should take stock, and soundings.

The government juggernaut has not run quite as smoothly as Blair's front- line team would have us think. There have been bumps, none of which has caused a write-off, but they have left the bodywork looking dented and scratched. There was the farce over the roads policy, where the press was briefed to expect the go-ahead for all the new schemes, only to find that half were scrapped. There was the unseemly row over Ron Davies, the Welsh Secretary, and what he said or did not say to one of his backbench colleagues. The banning of fox-hunting was at the top of the agenda but is now dropping like a stone. The hasty appointment of Mark McCormack to raise money for the Millennium Exhibition in return for a seven-figure fee does not sit well with the Government's avowed displeasure with the behaviour of "fat cats". The new "ethical" foreign policy sounds good, but in practice is guaranteed to be as difficult for the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence to implement as stopping the sale of Hawk jets to Indonesia has already proved.

The way in which ministers, notably Peter Mandelson, have handled the Tory attack on the offshore trust of Lord Simon, the new minister from BP, has been undignified. Nothing irks more than being preached to, Mr Mandelson. The electorate is not stupid and knows that an offshore trust is used to avoid the payment of tax, so it is insulting to pretend otherwise. This government was elected because the previous one had long failed to answer questions, and it is especially galling to witness ministers so soon into office failing to answer the question over Lord Simon.

The controversy over Lord Simon has caused a feeling of unease, a fear that a party leadership that left nothing to chance in its quest to be elected may cease to be equally rigorous in power. Take Delia Smith and her refusal of the offer of a working Labour peerage. In the same way that Norwich, her local football club, turned to Ms Smith and asked her to be on its board, so the Government asks her to sit in the House of Lords. She is a television cook and nothing more. Glitz and glamour is no substitute for substance. And that was also the message from Uxbridge, where the voters rejected a Labour candidate imposed from outside the area.

At the end of this first term there is much that is encouraging, more, possibly, than anyone imagined on 1 May. The school report would say that this pupil "works hard and has made excellent progress. He needs to improve his communication skills and take more account of others. Marks out of 10: eight. A good start."