The coalition has so far squandered its chance to be a transformative government (photo: The Prime Minister’s Office)
It could have been so different. A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition not only ought to have worked—it could have been transformative. By fusing together Conservative ideas about the free market with the Lib Dem tradition of political radicalism, the government could have become a watershed administration. But it has been nothing of the sort.
The lack of anything new has been most obvious when it comes to economic policy. Far from trying anything bold or different, we have ended up with Continuity Brown, the macroeconomic setting virtually unchanged from when Gordon was at the helm. During the five years of this parliament the government will borrow more than Gordon Brown managed in 13 years. Just like under Brown, the treasury has looked to monetary stimulus to produce growth, but ignored supply-side reform. “Unfunded” tax cuts continue to be ruled out, yet “unfunded” borrowing never seems to be.
Just as the treasury remains impregnable to new ideas, Whitehall assumptions about Europe—and Britain’s role in it—remain unchanged. While the eurozone lurches from one bailout to the next, government policy has been about how to perpetuate the problem rather than extricate ourselves from it. While the non-western world grows rapidly, the finest minds in government are fixated on remaining part of a bankrupt, stagnant club.
Instead of change, too often the coalition has ended up perpetuating the status quo. We can’t go on like this, you might think. But thus far, we have.
Nothing is ever entirely black and white. There are some transformational changes being made. Michael Gove has driven through bold reforms that will reshape education. Iain Duncan Smith’s work may lift millions out of dependency. Francis Maude’s initiatives on open data are magnificent.
But far from making politicians more in tune with what the public wants, in 2011, the coalition gave the people a referendum on the alternate vote system, a variety of electoral reform that very few outside Westminster wanted.
The idea of open primaries, whereby candidates to become MP would be chosen locally, rather than being imposed from outside, and which would have made MPs properly answerable to the electorate, has been quietly dropped. The proposal for a mechanism to allow the recall of MPs has been so mangled that…