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I For One Welcome Our Con-Lib Coalition Government

In Home Affairs on May 17, 2010 at 9:20 pm

By Stephen Wan

Ok, I’m going to go out and say it. I voted Labour in general election, and I’m not ashamed to say it; they have been a positive, progressive government for the past 13 years, with the minimum wage, devolution, investment in our public services, many pushes towards equal LGBT rights such as the Civil Partnership Act, the Human Rights Act, Freedom of Information Act, banning Fox Hunting, increasing international development aid, international agreement on dealing with the financial crisis at the G20, steps towards world action on climate change such as Kyoto and more. They’ve also done a lot of very bad things as well, such as the Iraq War, too many market-reforms in public services, erosion of civil liberties with ID cards and 42-day detention, the abolition of the 10p tax rate (which Labour introduced in the first place mind) and so on. I’m not completely misty-eyed when it comes to the New Labour project, but I respect it for achieving a lot in this country, and is under-recognised for its achievements, whilst remembering it had its faults.

But that is history now. We now have a new project – the ConLib project, a formation a year ago thought unimaginable. David Cameron is the Prime Minister, and Nick Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister. George Osborne is the Chancellor, whilst Vince Cable as the Business Secretary. This is pretty much what I expected if a coalition was to come about, although I’m surprised the Lib Dems didn’t get Education. There’s a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that there’s a point to no Lib Dems holding any of the great offices of state; the Conservatives want to remind them who’s in charge.

I’ll be the first to say I did not want this coalition to go ahead. Firstly, I thought it just wouldn’t work – how on earth could the Lib Dems and the Cons reconcile on issues like Europe, immigration and constitutional reform? The answer – they’ve been pragmatic beyond belief. Secondly, I always think coalitions will lead to the worst of both worlds; policies that are the least bit controversial will be dropped and we get left with stuff that everyone agrees with but nobody likes. Thirdly, I didn’t want to see the Lib Dems reduced to a hand-maiden for the Conservative party, bowing to every whim Cameron has.

Now, with a firmer idea of what the Conservative and Liberal Democrat negotiation teams have come up with, I’ve warmed to the idea. On liberal conspiracy, there’s apparently the agreement between the Con and Libs on a coalition: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/05/12/exclusive-was-this-the-con-lib-agreement. Reading through and hearing what they’ve agreed on, I found myself nodding and going “Oh, that’s not too bad”. I’ll examine the sections bit by bit and give my thoughts on them.

The first section is aptly deficit reduction, the biggest key issue for the government. I’m beginning to accept that we need to cut the deficit sooner rather than later, and it is better done by lowering spending rather than raising taxes. There’s an emphasis on protecting the lowest paid workers though, which I think is a good step. I do worry about taking £6bn out of the economy, as Brown so often used to say; can we really take that without a double-dip recession? What irks me though is a reduction in CTFs and CTCs, but at least the terrible Lib Dem policy of abolishing CTFs has gone through the window; the Conservatives actually are more progressive than the Lib Dems here!

The second section on spending review has its ups and downs; I have no idea why they continue to think they can ring-fence the NHS and reduce government spending. Unfortunately, the Cons manoeuvred themselves into a corner there with their populist but dangerous stance on not reducing spending on the NHS in real terms. Pupil premiums are coming in though, which might be quite a good policy actually, if we get disadvantaged students a good chance in education. The Lib Dems have backtracked on Trident though, which is disappointing if not terribly surprising – and it was an empty gesture in the first place, because there’s really not going to be a cheaper alternative than the one we have.

Tax measures was a give and take one. Cons give up raising inheritance tax and accept raising personal allowance to £10000. Libs give up their mansion tax, and promise not to oppose recognition of marriage in the tax system; by the way, any proposal that the Cons put forward which the Lib Dems abstain from is almost guaranteed to go through, because if you factor the Lib Dems out of the sums, the Cons have more seats than all the other parties put together.

Banking reform goes towards the hands of Cable more or less, as he has to tackle the idea of a banking levy, huge bonuses, and reducing risk. Euro is ruled out as well for this Parliament, something I don’t think the Lib Dems were ever serious on joining; its more of a way to placate the right in the Conservative party. Immigration, and the Lib Dems give up opposing a cap on it; still, if the cap is high enough, it may make virtually no difference whatsoever. No doubt the points system is still coming into effect though.

Political reform is interesting, with fixed term parliaments barring a loss of a confidence vote by 55% of the MPs – basically, the Lib Dems can break up this coalition whenever they want. A referendum on AV, not exactly what the Lib Dems wanted, nor what the Cons wanted to give, but the least offensive alternative (what a great metaphor for AV as a voting system). Some more fluff on the ability to trigger a by-election with 10% of a constituency’s agreement – the average size is about 7000 voters, so we’re talking about 7000 signatures in one area. It might be quite good for an expenses scandal type, but I wonder how many times that’s going to come about?

Skipping the next few, the environment is my passion, and these proposals sound good on paper – stopping the Third Runway, tax per plane, a green investment bank, and this crazy idea of a national recharging network for hybrid and electric cars. So specific targets on reducing CO2 emissions though; subject to the CCC it seems.

Overall, again I think its been a pretty reasonable compromise, and kudos to the Lib Dems and Cons for coming to this kind of agreement. I’m quietly hoping David Cameron will be a good PM, being impressed by his speech into No10 praising Brown and the Labour government instead of condemning it. It remains to be seen whether most of these ideas will materialise, and whether Clegg can actually make anything of the Deputy Prime Ministerial position, which is possible the most vacuous one in the cabinet (can anyone remember what Prescott did apart from punch a voter?). Nonetheless, I’m swaying to the yellowy blue side of politics – now its time to deliever.

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