People often ask me what it’s like to be in opposition. Of course it is not where you want to be. You cannot implement your programme and, even worse, you see the government not only scrapping your projects, but driving through a programme much of which you profoundly disagree with. So what can you do? The Opposition is never going to be able to defeat the Government on numbers. We therefore have to use all possible opportunities to persuade, cajole or shame the government into having a rethink as they are now doing on their plans to sell off forestry. But besides issues like forestry which attract many articulate supporters, we need to be looking out for plans which adversely affect those who are less likely to speak up for themselves.
To this end, last week we insisted on a debate to oppose Government plans to make hundreds of debt advisers redundant. These are specialist advisers who work through organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureaux. The number of people seeking debt advice is increasing and the wrong advice can cost you dearly. In the CAB specialist advisers deal with more complex cases and provide expert back-up for volunteers. This is what David Cameron has been slow to grasp about his Big Society idea – that it is difficult to use volunteers effectively without paid specialists and co-ordinators who support and organise them. But this is not the only cut that will be kicking people when they are down – there are also sweeping cuts in Legal Aid.
It was heartening at the weekend to hear that the Government has now agreed to fund debt advisers for another year, but we need more re-thinking if people are to have help when they need it most.