End of Term Report: Conservatives
The Conservatives did not win a majority at the last election. So how have they done in the last five years?
How do we measure what they have done? On one hand we can measure “how well they have governed” – if we can agree what we mean by “well”. On the other hand we can look at it from the point of view of raw politics.
I am not convinced by their claims of massive success at governing – they may have asserted that they have succeeded by I do not feel that they have made their case.
Five years ago “cutting the deficit” was the critical issue – at least in the eyes of the Conservatives, although I think everyone realised something needed to be done.
Their approach seemed to be one track. If you have a deficit (i.e. an excess of spending compared to income) you can:
- Cut your spending, or
- Increase your income, either:
- by raising taxes, or
- by growing the economy.
We are acutely aware that government spending has been cut, and apart from an initial hike in VAT that affects everyone, taxes have been cut – particularly for the rich. And growth? Stuttering at best. And the deficit? Still there – but we did not fall off an economic cliff. Was that ever a serious danger? We were compared to countries like Greece, but despite our deficit, our national credit was always stronger that Greece.
The cuts have been driven through, so that is a successful policy implementation (even if you disagree with it).
In foreign policy we seem to have lost our nerve. Whilst we have hit the 0.7% target for foreign aid, we have not contributed to the major foreign policy issues in the world – issues that potentially affect us:
- The Middle East is still a mess and remains an ongoing sore. Israel appears rampant and no one cares about the Palestinians. Syria is a contributor to so many issues. Iran and Iraq are still problematic.
- Third World Poverty is still an issue causing problems such as those seen in the Mediterranean almost every day. Where previously our absence was filled by Chinese economic expansionism, now the absence is filled in some cases by Islamist insurgents and pirates. Our attitude is inhumane and short-sighted.
- We have not worked out how to co-exist with the Islamic world and parts of it have now become a very real threat.
- Russia is resurgent and we passive in response .
- Nuclear proliferation remains a very real threat (North Korea, Israel-Iran, Pakistan-India) and we seem content to just sit on the powder keg.
- The Global Environment seems to have been relegated to the “too difficult” pile.
European policy is at a stand-still. Hard to say much more – but we are disengaging from our neighbours who could assist us in addressing so many trans-national issues. The Conservatives seem to have become hostage to UKIP and their own Euro-sceptic wing.
At home we do not feel more secure from terrorist threats – but we are just as subject to excessive surveillance as under the last Labour Government. And the promise to control immigration (whether you supported it or not) is unfulfilled – in fact this policy area looks just as much a mess as before.
Tory defined “public sector reform” has happened in a manner that the next government could find hard to reverse. The NHS and the Education system have radically changed for better or worse – but as proposed by the Conservatives. Another implementation “success”.
The Tories have been vastly more successful at the raw politics.
Their central desire to reduce the size of the state is on the way – but will take more than one parliament. This parliament has been about the language battles preparing the ground for future change – if given the chance.
- Welfare is no longer seen as a “public good” but as a subsidy for scroungers.
- Immigration is not seen as means for the country to fill short term skills shortages and to offer sanctuary to the oppressed, but a means for parasites to enter the country.
- We are no longer confident that the state can manage health and education and are prepared to believe that a profit driven public sector can make our systems as good for everyone as they are in say the United States.
And we have swallowed this tripe. A major success for the Tories giving them huge scope for very radical change should they get majority power.
They did not get majority power last time, but politically they have played their hand, if not skill-fully, with great success. They have hugged the Liberal Democrats into a suffocating embrace from which Clegg and Co. may not recover. They pushed them into the notorious “promise break” on tuition fees whilst themselves seeming to escape scot free from any blame for breaking their promises on the deficit, immigration, not raising VAT and not imposing top down change on the NHS. Incredible politics.
They have neutered two of the Lib Dems favourite policies, electoral reform and reform of the Lords – probably for a generation. This again is masterful politics – if it was conscious rather than accidental.
I am left wondering whether this has all been planned or whether Cameron, Osborne and Co. have just enjoyed being members of the “Governing Club” and throwing their weight around in accordance with their political prejudices – and are a little surprised at how well it has turned out. Their casual approach to detailing the cuts required to meet their present electoral bribes possibly indicates that they have succeeded despite themselves.