The Mid-Term Review: 3 further points

I posted last night my initial reactions to the Coalition’s Mid-Term Review: It’s hit and miss. But the biggest miss are the wasted opportunities. Three further quick points:

1) The Coalition’s survived: that’s significant

One omission in my review, and it’s a biggie: I should have noted the significance of the Coalition having stuck as a governing entity. The fact that Nick Clegg and David Cameron are making two-party government work at all is an achievement, one noted last week even by Matthew d’Ancona not a natural friend of the Lib Dems or pluralism:

For two decades we embraced the quasi-presidential style of Thatcher and Blair: a style still deployed successfully by Boris Johnson. But, for now at least, we have settled upon something different — government by two rather than one — an option to which we now know we can safely return. For what this Mid-Term Review truly reflects is something new, unexpected and of deep constitutional significance: nothing less than the viability of duumvirate.

2) Some things old, some things new

On a more negative note, the Mid-Tem Review promises:

Today, at the half-way point in this Parliament, we are taking stock of the progress we have made in implementing the Coalition Agreement that we signed in May 2010.

But it does no such thing. There’s no way of checking which pledges from the May 2010 Our programme for government have been met; and no way of checking which of the pledges contained in January 2013′s Together in the national interest are actually new (as opposed to carried-forward). The only reference point I have is the Guardian’s pledge-tracker — and that hasn’t been updated in over 18 months (whether because it showed too much progress for the Guardian’s tastes, or was just too hard to work out, I’m not sure).

3) Justice: giving with one hand, taking away with the other

The mis-match between the new Freedom Bill and the pursuit of secret courts is a mystery. We will, apparently, hear more in the next few weeks about a second Freedom Bill, the joint Clegg-Cameron foreword tells us:

as we take these steps to reshape the British state for the 21st century, we will take further steps to limit its scope and extend our freedoms.

Yet as Jo Shaw points out here the Mid_term Review also commits the Coalition, equally enigmatically, to instituting secret courts:

We will legislate to ensure that the security services are properly monitored through increased Parliamentary oversight and that proper balance is struck in trials involving highly sensitive matters of national security.

The ‘proper balance’ referenced there is to an unequal form of justice that no liberal government could ever sign up to; yet this one has, with all the risks that poses for the Lib Dem leadership.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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2 Comments

  • “The Coalition’s survived: that’s significant”, a strong point Stephen as is the comment by Matthew D’ancona on the ‘ viability of duumvirate.’

    What would a Conservative government faced with a looming election in current economic circumstances be contemplating. Perhaps experience of the recent past will enlighten us.

    Barbers ‘dash for growth’ in 1972 led to inflation, confrontation with the unions, and ultimately to the defeat of Edward Heath and his replacement by Mrs Thatcher. He told Parliament in 1972 that his Budget would add 10% to the UK’s growth in two years, and was unconcerned by his own forecast of a £3.4bn public sector borrowing requirement.

    He reduced income taxes by £1bn, and gave further huge tax concessions to industry in an effort to preserve jobs. The stimulus measures soon ran into the traditional capacity restaints of the British Economy, Sterling and the balance of trade. Inflation soared as a sterling crisis necessitated the floating of pound and the first oil crisis hit.

    Within 15 months the chancellor was forced to bring in a deflationary Budget, and the government was forced into an incomes policy (wages freeze) to try to control inflation which led to a confrontation with the miners. The UK’s economic performance continued to deteriorate during the 1970s, and the stock market and housing boom went into reverse. The debacle convinced many critics in the Conservative Party, that Keynesian type measures which used government spending to boost the economy and cut unemployment, no longer worked.

    Nigel Lawson was determined after the 1987 Election to show the electorate that the Tories were the party of tax cuts.
    In his two budgets of 1987 and 1988, he cut income tax rates from 29p to 25p, while the top rate was cut to 40p.

    Initially, this made him a hero among Conservatives and boosted his prestige in his fight with MrsThatcher to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism, which he believed was the best way to control inflation. When he announced his April 1988 Budget, he believed that the economy was slowing down to a sustainable rate, and projected a huge surplus that justified his income tax cuts.

    But it soon became clear that he had badly miscalculated. Economic growth was actually accelerating, and the tax cuts and interest rate cuts gave a huge boost to the housing market, with house prices rising by 20% a year. Within a few months, interest rates had to be doubled, the UK was running its largest ever balance-of-payments deficit, and inflation began shooting up.

    The cost of bringing the situation under control was a severe recession under his successor, Norman Lamont, and a series of budget deficits and tax increases that did much to undermine the credibility of Conservative economic policy

    While the coalitions economic performance may be far from satisfactory, it is at least a balanced approach that takes account of the need for measured deficit reduction over the medium term with its impact distributed across all income deciles; the necessity for maintaining at least a minimal level of capital investment; and the requirement for a longer term industrial and energy strategy to rebalance and reposition the UK ecomomy.

    Many of the longer-term and modest income inequality features are very likely to have been been missing from an economic programme created by a majority tory government and left to its own devices.

  • Joel Kenrick 15th Jan '13 - 4:31pm

    Stephen,

    On your second point there are several organisations other than the Guardian that are monitoring how many pledges are kept. For example on environmental issues NGOs including WWF got together in two coalitions to publish assessments: the Wildlife and Countryside Link last year published a detailed rating of progress the Coalition Agreement (http://www.wcl.org.uk/nature-check.asp) and Green Alliance did the same on climate change (http://www.green-alliance.org.uk/grea_p.aspx?id=5995). They are both pretty comprehensive and I hope other organisations are doing the same in other fields.

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