In Defence of the Coalition

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I know what you’re thinking. The coalition government between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats has been a five-year catastrophe, lurching from one embarrassing disaster to another. How on earth do you intend to defend it?

But I want you to think about something for a minute. I want you to name the worst thing that happened under the Tony Blair governments. The chances are you said the Iraq War, and said it pretty much straight away. Now do the same with Gordon Brown. This time I’m guessing you probably said the economic crash and the financial crisis. Finally, I want you to do it with the coalition government. I’m sure you could probably think of lots of things; the unforgettable tuition fees debacle, general austerity, and NHS privatisation. Now put them into context with the previous two examples – is it really that bad?

History looks back on governments with the benefit of hindsight, with legacies often decided years after leaving office. When Gordon Brown took office in 2007, his predecessor Tony Blair remained more popular than him. Now Blair’s reputation has been completely tarnished by the events in Iraq. It is for this reason that I believe history will look back on the Cameron-Clegg coalition with favour.

Who can forget that afternoon in the rose garden in May five years ago? The sun was out, and Nick and Dave were like two dads at a children’s party; they both wanted the afternoon to themselves but were forced into going so put on that smile and laughed at the jokes that really weren’t all that funny. Did either of them think their coalition would last the whole five years? The people certainly didn’t, and even in August 2012, two years after the coalition was formed, only 16% saw the coalition lasting until May 2015. This in itself is an achievement; whether you wanted the coalition government to be leading the country or not, the fact that they stuck together, against all odds, has to be praised. Wrong decisions were made at times, of course they were, but it was unorthodox, it was pragmatic. Leaving probably would have been the easiest option, sticking it out was gutsy, sticking it out was brave.

I recognise that this alone isn’t a measure of success. The coalition had one main aim, one problem that needed fixing – the economy. They opted for austerity, and yes, it was unpopular, few want to see public services cut, but has it worked? On the whole, it’s fair to say it has, our economic growth is expected this year to be amongst the highest in the world, and unemployment in the UK has fallen. There are still problems and it would have been nicer if the recovery were quicker. However no one trusted Labour after the crisis; this recovery may have been slow, but it’s been stable.

I’ve ignored lots of things critics of the coalition would jump on – the sale of Royal Mail, and the phone hacking scandal , and high inequality, to name but a few. The Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats will not praise the coalition in this election campaign because it’s been complicated, they’ve both done things they wouldn’t have done on their own. Clegg and his motley crew will lose out in a few weeks’ time; he may even lose his own seat. But I don’t think that will stop history looking back and thinking, ‘you know, maybe that bunch were alright after all’.

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Station Manager at Surge Radio and occasional political ramblings at the Wessex Scene, with the odd music review for The Edge and the Independent. Once worked as a giant penguin on an ice rink.

Discussion2 Comments

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    Coalition austerity has to be judged by three separate criteria: Its stated aim, its true aim and its wider effect on the country.

    The stated aim of coalition austerity was to eliminate the UK’s budget deficit. In this, it has failed. The deficit for the financial year 2009-10 was £170.8 billion; for 2014-15, it was £98.5 billion. In short, the deficit has fallen by less than half.

    In terms of the wider economic effects on the country, the Osborne chancellery has been a catastrophic failure. Public sector net debt has increased by approximately £580 billion – more than the sum of the increase in debt under all Labour chancellors in history, combined. Whilst GDP has just about passed its pre-recession peak, GDP per capita (i.e. the statistic which actually matters) is still 14% less than it was in 2007. Real wages have fallen, despite inflation having crashed to zero, and ordinary people are feeling the impact. Moreover, an economy which was finally growing again in the last two quarters of Gordon Brown’s premiership re-entered recession as soon as the Coalition came to power, making the recovery the slowest in British history.

    Where the policy of austerity has been extraordinarily successful is in its real aim – making as much money as possible for the elites of UK society, whom the Conservative Party represent. Economically, the country is now more unequal than at any time since before the 20th Century. Whilst income inequality has fallen slightly from its 2010 peak, wealth equality has greatly increased. The Tory press publicise the first statistic to hide the latter, but the truth is pretty stark if you care to look.

    I have scarcely scratched the surface, and have chosen to stick merely to economic measures here since you largely did the same. The effects on our education system, health service, welfare state, military etc. have been just as damaging, if not more so, but you probably know that. That, I assume, is why you didn’t bring it up. Even on the hard economics, though, the Tories still fail. Not that Labour are much better, of course – they have supported all but the harshest Tory austerity policies – but I do not claim to be a supporter of their Tory-lite agenda.

    In short, your defence of the Coalition’s record is simply wrong. They have been a disaster for this country, and we should vote them out on May the 7th.

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