Thursday, 11 November 2010

Happy half-birthday to the Coalition

It is now six months since the Coalition was formed and came to power. So what have they achieved in that time?

Dependably, the economy - and specifically a yawning budget deficit inherited from Labour - has been the Coalition's first priority. Indeed it has widely handicapped - as they knew it would - the Coalition's hopes and abilities to develop policies requiring spending in other areas. But George Osborne's emergency Budget back in July and the Comprehensive Spending Review in October have greatly strengthened market confidence in the Coalition's ability to reduce the deficit, keeping medium and long-term lending rates low for the foreseable future. Many will see this as a rather unremarkable achievement based as it is deep in the bowels of the economy. But it provides the very foundation of an efficient and properly functioning economy saving both businesses and families countless billions of pounds in increased prices, currencies and costs that would otherwise have been a huge - and perhaps unbearable - burden. The notable exception to this - and it has to be said, an increasingly isolated one - is the Ballsian view that any lowering of public spending for the next year or more (the timescale appears to be flexibly long) will produce a double-dip recession and a  'lost decade' like the 1930's. How Labour's glee club would love that.

In truth the Coalition's economic narrative has effectively - and rather cleverly - neutralised the economy as an issue after the disaster it became under Labour. The Brown view, that nothing could be touched for fear of depression or worse - Portugal, Ireland and Greece - has now receded. Going forward, there are still major issues over growth and the opposition will continue to land pyrrhic victories by reference to totemic issues like Sheffield Forgemasters - as if an £80m loan would ruin the economy. But an aura of quiet calm and professional dignity has enveloped the Coalition government. Its economic management is now undoubted - remember those Mandelsonian taunts of 'boy George sailing too close to the wind'? - indeed it is widely admired across global financial institutions. And it is George Osborne and his team - including Danny Alexander and even David Laws who prepared the ground - that have played a crucial role here. This will be the Coalition's greatest - though I suspect largely forgotten - legacy.

A cascade of revolutions have also been launched right across government as the pent-up frustration of five lost years under Labour's sclerotically-centralised Brownian bureaucracy which stifled communities, people and business is desperately unwound.

Labour's characterisation of this Coalition as an narrow, arrogantly-entitled ideological elite imposing social engineering on an unwilling country fits only their own record of thirteen years in government. We will still be paying off Labour's legacy of tax and spend for the next thirty years. And what choice did we get as to how our hard earned money was spent? Absolutely none. Labour always knew best. And that is why the largest budget deficit in our peacetime history will remain quite clearly Labour's legacy.

The Coalition by contrast, launches supply-side, bottom-up revolution right across government - putting people at its heart. They call it the 'big society'. I can think of better names, but it really is not an excercise in cutting public services and having them run by volunteers as the Labour election adverts suggested. Its about giving control - and with it responsibility - to us. Ordinary people like you and me. Able to decide and make a real choice about our health, education, welfare or policing. Not being imposed by an arrogant elite who know better then us how we should live our lives. That path leads to an open immigration policy 'just to rub the right's nose in it' which so damaged decent working people; the falacy of multiculturalism that provided the ethnic ghettoes from which the 7/7 bombers emerged; the deeply unfair culture of welfare dependency that continues to blight the lives of over 8 million of our most vulnerable people or the political ideology that led to 42 days detention without trial and a whole host of illiberal and repressive legislation in the name of battling terror.

What a shameful legacy.

The revolution has only just begun. In education - both compulsory and higher - health, welfare, local government and the way our electoral system works it is already underway. In policing, the house of lords, prisons and the great reform bill, the revolution will take a while longer. It will almost certainly require two terms of government, perhaps more. The democratic and accountable reform of the EU for instance, may take longer still. But if the Big Society means anything, it surely will happen.

Happy half-birthday to the Coalition.