Peter Hoskin

Francis Maude is right, but he must remain wary

Francis Maude is right, but he must remain wary
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Big words from Francis Maude, as he tells today's Guardian that the current government is more radical than either Thatcher or Blair were in their first terms. But, to my mind, he's right. Even looking back on the past week – with the proposals to reform policing and benefits – there's a good deal of radical policy. And that's before we get onto the free schools revolution or GP commissioning – or, of course, to a Budget which took shears to the size of the state as few have done so before.

But Maude shouldn't get too excited quite yet. It is all very well talking about good intentions and plans, but – as any fule kno – the real challenge will be in the implementation. The case of Michael Gove is instructive in this regard. He came into government with the most exciting and coherent reform package of any minister, but has endured a torrid time translating it into practice. There were, indeed, fresh embarrassments for him the other day, and it now looks as though the new generation of academies won't be ready as early as the government had hoped. This doesn't make these schools reforms any less powerful or necessary. But it does demonstrate that the system often isn't geared for – and sometimes operates against – rapid reform. Just ask Alan Milburn and all the other reformers who wrote the first draft of this government's health policy.

The coalition knows, though, that it doesn't have time to spare. In the 1980s, Thatcher was able to capitalise on political events to drive her reform programme forward in her second and third terms. Now, political events are just as likely to turn against the coalition as not. Disgruntlement with spending cuts, backbench revolt, the natural difficulties of a hung parliament – even the coalition's most ardent fans have to admit that there could be trouble ahead. And if the coalition's political capital weakens, or even collapses completely, then all this early radicalism could come to naught.

This is not intended to sound unduly pessimitic. The government is right to go full throttle on public service reform. Anything less will fail by default. But it will be judged on what the country looks like in a few years time, not on what bills it manages to get through Parliament now. Radicalism is anaemic if it doesn't deliver results.