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’.