David Cameron’s first 100 days haven’t gone as he would once have hoped.
So far, his Government has been defined by cuts.
It’s not a characterisation Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would probably appreciate. Some Conservatives have even begun to complain that the focus on cutbacks in the media is a symptom of an anti-Tory agenda.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that his Government wasted no time in identifying and announcing cuts in budgets ranging from police to transport, as well as the wholesale closure of some agencies and quangos.
Mr Cameron wanted to be known as a Conservative leader and, one day, Prime Minister who made positive changes.
Instead of scrapping things he opposed, he wanted to offer a better future for the UK.
That’s why he declared, in his 2006 speech to the Conservative conference, “let sunshine win the day”. Inevitably, however, he’s been forced to change tack as a result of the economic crisis which left Britain’s public finances in a mess.
Britain has debts of around £927 billion, and that is only rising. Last year the country spent £155 billion more than it received in taxes.
Some critics of the present Government argue that UK debt levels do not require the type of drastic action the Government is taking. After all, public debt represents around 68.5 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product – lower than Canada, Germany, France or Belgium.
But this is an argument even Labour didn’t have the confidence to make during the election campaign.
Instead, Gordon Brown’s party accepted the need for cuts. The main policy difference with the Conservatives appeared to be that Labour would wait six months longer before implementing them.
The principle that dramatic cuts are needed was barely challenged, although insiders such as Lord Mandelson have since revealed that bitter rows took place behind closed doors over whether this was the right approach or not.
Certainly, the Conservatives are convinced that cuts are essential. Business leaders appear to share their view.
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce is arguing that Britain needed to restore its reputation for financial and economic competence.
But Chamber boss Jerry Blackett also raises a crucial point when he warns that cuts to the public sector have a direct impact on the private sector, because it means that their public sector customers have less money to spend – or face abolition. And the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.
The decision to scrap planned improvements to the M6 or reduce police funding will be nothing compared to the massive cuts George Osborne, the Chancellor, is set to announce in the public spending review after the summer break.
While this Government appears to have acted swiftly to take tough decisions, the reality is that what’s happened so far is more like a softening up exercise.
Mr Osborne’s refrain that “we’re all in this together” contains some truth. It appears that the Government plans to make middle class voters pay their share by taking away some of the universal benefits they take for granted.
But the problem for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition is that even if the nation is convinced it needs to take its medicine, that doesn’t make it taste better.
Voters may be convinced “painful decisions” are needed to cut the deficit, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be angry when the decisions are announced.
It’s not Mr Cameron’s fault that his first 100 days in office have been associated with cuts. But he’ll need to find a way to change the story before the next election.