As we draw ever nearer to the 2015 general election we can start to look back at the last five years and consider the work of the Conservative led coalition. Who ever was going to be handed the keys to No 10 in 2010, it was always going to be a poisoned chalice. Hugely unpopular decisions were going to have to be made in order to battle the uncontrollable deficit and departmental budgets would have to be given some severe haircuts.
Coalitions are viewed by historians typically as weak, unable to work together and consequently little effective legislation being passed. However, two unlikely coalition partners can consider themselves to have achieved a fair amount. Below are just a few areas we should consider as success.
An initial deal breaker in coalition negotiations was the establishment of fixed term parliaments. This has been an important issue to the Liberal Democrats as they firmly believe that parliaments should be structured and run on definitive schedules giving governments a clear timetable to get their agendas implemented. One of the powerful tools in the past for prime ministers was the ability to call a general election at their discretion as long as it fell within their given electoral period (five years). Blair took advantage of this when he called for an election in 2001 riding the crest of popularity in the polls instead of waiting until 2002 when the initial five year period would have culminated. Taking away this power limits a government’s ability to manipulate and prolong their reign in No 10.
2014 witnessed the final UK troops being withdrawn from Afghanistan after a bloody thirteen year battle fighting the Taliban was drawn to an end. Over the years the campaign had become more and more unpopular as fatalities increased and the constant resurgence in Taliban attacks never abated. Cameron had made it clear that withdrawal from Afghanistan was always the plan and signalled a shift in foreign policy towards the Middle Eastern problem. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond in 2013 explained that it was a ‘political settlement’ that needed to be achieved by negotiating with the Taliban rather than soldiers on the ground.
September 2014 marked the moment Scotland rejected the chance to become independent from the United Kingdom. It was a momentous event as a pro unionist prime minister granted the SNP the opportunity to achieve their ultimate goal. The two opposing campaigns fought hard as it galvanized the Scottish population and engaged them in issues that would be affected by independence. Despite the ‘No’ victory, the move towards eventual independence is underway as more powers are devolved from London to Holyrood. Cameron and co should be praised – they illustrated that a referendum can be held on critical heartfelt issues and that political parties are willing to make that bold step in to the unknown. We shouldn’t forget also the referendum on the AV (Alternative Voting) system too. The First Past The Post system prevailed strongly as the winner defeating the preferred Lib Dem method. It represented another landmark moment with the opportunity presented to the electorate to replace a centuries old voting system that some quarters believe has become out dated and unfair.
One party’s policy on taxes will always sit uncomfortably with another somewhere on the political spectrum but I like to think that some progressive changes have been made. To name a few, in April 2013 the 50% income tax rate was replaced by a 45% levy on incomes of £150k+. Chancellor Osborne’s March 2014 budget announced that the threshold of which the public would be taxed on their earnings would be raised from April 2015 for the 10% and 40% levies. Limits on cash ISAs were pushed higher and savers were protected from the 10p tax rate.
Later in the year, Osborne again wowed the electorate with his stamp duty reforms. The out of date and hugely unbalanced thresholds dependent on property values experienced the overhaul they very much needed. Buyers would be facing lower stamp duty bills than previously faced on properties valued from £250,001 to £500,000.
The legalisation of same sex marriages marked an important and positive social change. National treasure Stephen Fry famously married his partner in January 2015. Previously, gay couples were limited to civil partnerships that didn’t share the same status as marriage. Some religious groups and sectors voiced their disapproval to the change but it would appear that this is a significant step forward socially and would represent something of a sharp contrast to historical Conservative party views on the issue.
I firmly believe that the coalition government will be looked back on by historians in fifty years time positively as being a brave administration that made great strides and progressive changes. Going into government the parties knew they would have to be ruthless and unpopular, whilst at times having to compromise some of their own principles. The economy was a mess in 2010 and government spending out of control. The approach taken to the economy and its ultimate turn around in performance is the greatest achievement of the coalition government.
The budget deficit has continued to fall in the last five years and if we are to believe the figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) then the UK is on course to achieve a budget surplus in 2018 – when government spending will be less than what it receives. The nation’s GDP has grown continuously for eight consecutive quarters whilst inflation has dropped to 0.5% which will aid to an extent sluggish wage growth.
The economy itself grew at 2.6% in 2014 according to ONS, greater than previously expected. The UK is now the 6th biggest economy in the world and is on course to surpass Germany and France. Head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde commented that the UK is providing ‘eloquent and convincing’ economic leadership. Unemployment has continued to fall whilst Standard & Poor continue to award the UK economy triple-A status.
Many will argue that the recovery has come at a cost to services, living standards etc but the reality is that this was the biggest economic mess that any UK government has ever had to deal with and the coalition have dealt with it pragmatically. On evidence of the faltering French economy, the economic approach favoured by Labour would have failed to deliver results as good as Osborne and his team.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have illustrated that despite being unnatural allies, coalitions can work even at the most delicate of times. Chances are we could be looking at another coalition in May 2015, analysing the past five years it may not be too bad after all.
By Tristan Allen, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.