Clash of Comments – Was the coalition a success?

NO – Andrew Knowles

Perhaps what the Coalition will be most remembered for is its austerity measures. By comparing the finances of the country to household economics, they quickly convinced a large proportion of people that massively cutting government spending –and thus reducing GDP –is a sensible idea in a recession (when interest rates are already as low as they can go).

The result for the UK economy has been disastrous. The Office for Budget Responsibility has calculated that in the fiscal year of 2010/11, austerity reduced growth by 1 per cent and by another 1 per cent in 2011/12, with the OBR predicting that further cuts will reduce GDP further. The Oxford economist Simon Wren-Lewis argues that by now the cost of 2010 austerity, cumulatively, could exceed 5 per cent of GDP.

There has been an unprecedented lack of growth in living standards while productivity growth has stalled. The small amount of economic growth that we have seen has been largely based on consumption, fuelled by credit and an inflated property-market. The jobs that have been created have been largely part-time and low-paid.

The Coalition government has made huge cuts to social welfare spending and has made it much more difficult for those dependent on welfare to actually receive payments or help. The social effects have been dire.

In 2014-15, over a million people were given three days worth of emergency food by Trussell Trust foodbanks, compared with 61,468 in 2010-11. Benefit delays, low income and benefit changes are the three most common referral causes for this emergency food aid

The financial industry, which caused the financial crisis of 2007-8 and the subsequent recession, still enjoys a huge amount of economic and political power.

Instead of trying to break up the largest of the financial institutions and implement serious regulation, Osborne chose to continue the previous Labour Government’s policy of quantitative easing.

The effect of the £375 billion (yes, billion) injection into the financial industry has mainly been to prop up the stock market and has also had the effect of boosting the richest 10 per cent of the population’s wealth by an average of £128,000-322,000 (according to the Bank of England). As David Cameron once said: We’re all in this together!

This is not to mention the disastrous military intervention in Libya (it turns out that you can’t magically improve authoritarian states by bombing their basic infrastructure while arming extremist Islamist militants; who’d have thought!)

And, of course, the privatisation of the NHS (because everyone knows how much more efficient the US healthcare system is). And let’s not mention the failure of the Coalition to implement serious climate change policy (it’s not like climate scientists are warning of catastrophe!)

In conclusion: unless you’re fortunate enough to be belong to the economic elite of this country you should not consider the Coalition government’s time at all successful.

YES – Niall Whitehead

Alright, it seems there’s a devil here that needs an advocate. Truthfully, I’d usually be more inclined to position myself on the “boo, hiss” half of this argument, but sometimes it’s just fun to argue the other side. So let’s try!

The coalition’s most unambiguous success was probably creating and, more importantly, maintaining a stable government in a period of economic concern and instability. Considering that before the ConDem alliance Britain hadn’t had a coalition government since the 1940s, and that said government was made of two parties who might well be described as somewhat at odds, the new government carried on relatively harmoniously rather than simply breaking apart a few months in, as many spectators predicted.

There were clashes of policy, of course, and of these the AV referendum was probably the most blatant. But much of the internal warfare since seems to have been Conservative versus Conservative, particularly on the divisive issue of Europe. In any case, the coalition demonstrated that a government of two parties could carry through a full programme of government, making decisions and then actually carrying out reform. As a result, the ideology of British politics has definitely been altered. Voters need not fear an indecisive result as much as they once did, since we now know a coalition government can function strongly and effectively.

When our gaze shifts to individual policies, things get trickier, but there are still things to celebrate. Parliament officially allowing same-sex marriage, which came into effect on March 2014, is an act the vast majority of us can get behind. An article in the Politics section last week observed that an increase in funding has helped cancer survival rates rise from among the worst in Europe to around the best. The King’s Fund, meanwhile, notes that although some NHS reforms have been damaging, the Care Act “has created a legal framework for introducing a fairer system of funding of long-term care”.

And on paper, the economy is improving. The Office for National Statistics claims we got 2.6 per cent growth back in 2014, while the deficit has halved as a proportion of Britain’s GDP from 10.2 per cent to 5 per cent (some, however, are skeptical regarding the long-term sustainability of this growth). Bringing around 25 million people out of the income tax bracket (by raising it to £10,600) has also reportedly saved the typical taxpayer £705 a year, according to the Huffington Post.

Unemployment is down by 6 per cent, according to the Office of National Statistics, and 1.75 million people have now gained jobs during the coalition’s time in power. Though this statistic, too, invites dissent – some argue that these jobs are often zero-hours contracts or badly paid – the Office argues that 83 per cent are legitimate, full-time jobs.

So there we go. The coalition had some successes, and the fact it managed to remain a single, stable government for four years was probably the chiefest of them all.

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