Should the Conservative party be gloating right now?

The opening years of the Conservative and Liberal Democrats coalition government provided few opportunities for the self-congratulation that comes so naturally to the present generation of Conservative politicians. The economy barely grew, the NHS was left in chaos by Andrew Lansley’s reforms and the coalition government’s promise of a new politics was tainted by repeated scandals.

But in recent weeks a mood of triumphalism has taken hold in the Conservative Party and among its press supporters. In the final Prime Ministers Questions before the summer recess, David Cameron declared: “The deficit is down, unemployment is falling, crime is down, welfare is capped and Abu Qatada is back in Jordan. Every day this country is getting stronger and Ed Miliband is getting weaker.”

And yet, by any reasonable measure, the coalition’s record remains one of failure, even on its own terms. The economic recovery of which ministers boast is the slowest in more than 100 years, with GDP nearly 4% below its pre-recession peak. In the US, by contrast, where President Barack Obama administration maintained fiscal stimulus, the economy is 3.2% larger than in 2007 after growth four times greater than that of the UK. And rather than rebalancing the economy away from debt-driven consumption and towards investment and exports as was promised and desirable in 2010, Chancellor George Osborne appears intent on creating another housing bubble through his Help to Buy scheme, which will reflate demand without addressing the problem of supply.

The headline fall in unemployment, which remains unacceptably high at 2.51 million (7.8%), masks the sharp rise in so called underemployment, with a record 1.45 million people in part-time jobs because they are unable to work full-time. To compound this, long-term unemployment has reached a 17-year high 915,000 and youth unemployment is at 959,000 (20.9%). Total joblessness has not risen to the heights experienced in the 1980s more because of workers’ willingness to price themselves into employment (real wages have fallen remarkable 9%) than through the success of the government’s strategy. To voters enduring the greatest squeeze ion living standards in recent history, ministers offer scapegoats- “welfare dependants”, “health tourists”, “troubled families”. In the meantime, Britain’s core problems, such as its economic short-termism, its lack of social mobility and its extreme income inequality, remain largely unaddressed.

As global competition intensifies, the UK needs a government that, as well as encouraging enterprise and enabling small businesses to flourish, will be prepared to use the state innovatively to promote balanced growth, that is capable of maintaining old international alliances and forging new ones, and that can revive a sense of national purpose of a kind that, for now, us largely absent.

The only reason why the current government is so happy with itself is because they have managed to convince the general public that the current “successes” are the best this country could expect in the first place and that under any government, this meagre progress would be eliminated completely. The government continues to highlight the travesty of Greece and Spain and they suggest that if it was not for the Conservatives, the UK would travel the same paths as those two struggling nations. However the government fails to point out that Germany and the US, despite many of their own problems, have more or less managed to steady their own economic ship.

When expectations are so low, any good news, like the recent announcement that the UK economy has grown by 0.6% and the news that unemployment has fallen slightly seem like great news for celebration. But given the fact that the Conservatives promised to eliminate the deficit completely and said they would get the economy back on track by 2015, one has to question why they are so happy at the inadequate progress they have made. The Conservatives have just under two years to make serious progress, otherwise they risk looking like a completely failure of the government and thus, risk losing the 2015 general elections.

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Categories: Global Political Insight

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