Tom Richmond: Opponents manage to make Miliband look good

THIS has been a bad four weeks for Vince Cable. But it has been an even worse month for Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, who is proving to be equally unimpressive and unsuited to high office.

After capitulating over his planned cuts to the school sport budget once it became clear that this would be the theme of a – for once – memorable Queen's Christmas message, Gove has now been forced to review his decision to withdraw 13m from Bookstart, a New Labour initiative which provides book packs for new-born babies and toddlers through health centres, nurseries and libraries.

The sums involved are trivial compared to the scale of the cuts being rammed through by Gove, Cable and his ilk.

Yet their mishandling does pose two interesting questions.

If Ministers have erred, as Gove has virtually admitted, why were these policy failings not spotted before the cuts were announced? And, if the Government is going to backtrack in the face of opposition from celebrities, what is going to happen over other contentious, and costly, social policies that are likely to be scrapped in 2011?

The only person to emerge with any credit from these two policy shambles is Ed Miliband, the Labour leader. He championed both causes at the outset and, indeed, says Bookstart is one of Labour's legacies that gives him the greatest pride.

What he does not say – and what he will not have to say because of the Government's reverses – is what policies he would cut in order to preserve funding for school sport and the Bookstart initiative.

This is regrettable – Miliband's policies have to be properly costed. And what Gove, a man who appears out of his depth in government, has not said is how he now intends to fund the two programmes that he has saved. Shame on him. This unacceptable state of affairs must not be allowed to persist in 2011. It is why every policy pronouncement, whether by the Government or Opposition, must be properly costed – and include details on how every last penny will be funded.

Anything less will be a betrayal of the public interest in this age of austerity.

I SUPPOSE it is very difficult to expect bosses on the East Coast route – where just 70 per cent of trains are less than 10 minutes late – to be dismissed when their own boss, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, remains unsackable, despite his dismal response to the snow-inflicted travel chaos.

Hammond clearly thought he had done enough when he turned up at Heathrow Airport, a short distance from his constituency, until it was pointed out that passengers had been stranded, and sleeping on terminal floors, for four days.

As such, he managed to do the impossible over the festive period – and make the aforementioned Vince Cable and Michael Gove look assured and competent.

HE may have voted against the tuition fee increase but is David Davis, the one-time Shadow Home Secretary, a genuine threat to David Cameron and the coalition's survival prospects?

The Haltemprice and Howden MP may be portrayed as such – and may, indeed, relish his rebel status – but a recent radio discussion about the coalition's formation in May suggested otherwise.

For, as Cameron made his offer to Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, he sought Davis's advice on several occasions because the two Yorkshire MPs had worked closely together on the issue of civil liberties. And how can Davis be viewed as a threat when he, himself, says the coalition will last five years?

DOCTORS complain that NHS walk-in centres, such as the clinic in Leeds, pose a threat to their future. They only have themselves to blame.

If their appointments system was "fit for purpose", and not dependent upon GPs releasing slots to suit their own convenience rather than the interests of patients, then these facilities – based on that important concept of convenience – will not be welcome. Judging by my own tiresome experience trying to get a doctor's appointment at a surgery hailed by none other than Gordon Brown as a shining example of New Labour at its best, these walk-in centres are likely to become even more crucial in the years ahead. Use them – or lose them.

SOME welcome news to start the new year. Composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber has indicated that his work schedule will prevent him filming a fifth reality series with the BBC.

I'm pleased – it is disgraceful that this multi-millionaire has been given so much free publicity by the BBC because the Corporation is unable to find a more imaginative way to fill its Saturday night schedule.

The downside is that the Tory peer is still putting his showbusiness empire before his responsibilities in the House of Lords where he is supposed to have championed the arts, and where he has been such an infrequent contributor.

THE best laugh over the festive period came when Geordie TV presenters Ant and Dec were somehow compared favourably to comedy greats Morecambe and Wise. I don't think so. At least Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, the pride of Morley, entertained – and are still funny more than 25 years after their last double-act performance.

Perhaps Morecambe's son. Gary, was being over-generous when he made the unfortunate comparison. For, in 2035, Ant and Dec – I confidently predict – will be footnotes in the history of television.

Do others agree?

tom.richmond@ypn.co,uk