Friday, 28 January 2011

The coalition so far: good or bad?

A recent blog post by Neil Harding lists what are, in his view, The ten worst (and five best) things the coalition have far.

He is particularly upset about the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance and the cutting of numerous budgets, all moves that will, by and large, hurt the poor more than the rich. The increase in VAT also attracts his opprobrium. I am inclined to agree with most of this. How can the government possibly claim that VAT is progressive? Why not raise the money instead by increasing income tax on the rich? Why can we not be more like Scandinavia, whose economies incidentally are consistently more successful than Britain's?

Neil is also highly sceptical about the proposed NHS reforms, and I fear he may be right. It is unclear how it will improve services, and seems more likely to waste public money than save any. An article in this week's British Medical Journal bluntly describes the whole scheme as "mad". All past evidence is that major restructuring of large organisations hardly ever delivers the advantages claimed, and seriously damages efficiency while the upheaval is under way.

On the plus side, Neil Harding approves of Ken Clarke's "Prison doesn't work" stance, and I very much agree. Some of us have been trying to make this argument for more than 30 years, but know-nothing tabloid kneejerk populist yelling always seems to win the day over the calm appraisal of facts in the area of law-'n'-order. We wait to see whether it will really be any different this time.

Defence cuts, and raising the income tax threshold, are positive moves as far as they go; but, as Neil points out, the defence budget could be slashed far more than this without any discernible disbenefits to the country as a whole. Some jobs would be lost. But the present level of defence expenditure -- on pointless macho toys like aircraft carriers and Trident missiles -- is a remarkably expensive way of sustaining a few hundred thousand jobs.

On big item missing from his "good things" list, I think, is transport. Rather remarkably, the coalition has stuck so far to its determination not to expand airport capacity in the south-east, in the face of a great deal of doomist bleating from the vested interests concerned. Also, Philip Hammond as Transport Secretary is proving a good deal less of a "petrolhead" than most of us feared. Not only are Crossrail and Thameslink going ahead, and a certain (albeit too limited) amount of railway electrification also; but the man has actually been going around saying that railways are an essential part of the economy's infrastructure, and have to be invested in whether they make a "profit" or not. This is about as different from the usual Thatcherite dogma as you could reasonably get, and deserves more credit than it has so far received, especially in the present economic circumstances.


Chris said...

Agree with your summary and I know you were not trying to duplicate the article to which you referred but was surprised you didn't mention the welcome AV Referendum, the abolition of the Labour ID card scheme and the much welcome dampening of the Tories usual Euroscepticism by their Lib Dem 'ballast'. Lords reform is on the list. Four really important achievements in my view. I also welcome fixed term parliaments, as I have always thought the ruling party advantage in calling election dates, to be morally outrageous. There have been a host of other smaller administrative changes which are also to be welcomed. I deplore all the cuts but am prepared to hold my nose and tolerate them temporarily just to get the referendum which I care about much more than anything else, having craved a more preferential voting system for 45 years... I think preferential voting could lock in more left of centre governments in the long term. I seem to be one of very few people looking to the long term, constitutionally.

peezedtee said...

You're right, I certainly welcome those constitutional changes. They, and the abolition of the ID scheme, are definitely on the positive side of the balance sheet.

Whether AV "locks in more left of centre governments in the long term" is a very moot point, but anyway is answering the wrong question. The proper criterion for judging a voting system is not whether it is likely to further one's own political aims, but what is best for the voter. I am in favour of preferential voting because it frees the voter from voting tactically, i.e. trying to guess what other voters are doing. However, it looks as if we could very well lose the referendum, and then where will we be?

RJGraham said...

Alas, this Tory-led government has been so very right wing and the Liberals so very near invisible in their 'leftward dragging' role that the AV referendum is already a referendum on Liberal involvement in the coalition, rather than on voting reform.

The referendum has therefore already been lost. This isn't good news, obviously.

I can see why a rump of Liberal voters are okay with what has been got (runways, Crossrail, ID cards) but these were all things the Tories were pledged to do anyway.

So far, it seems that, if it's Tory and Liberal policy, it goes through. If it's Tory policy, it goes through. If it's Liberal policy, it's ditched immediately *by the Liberals themselves*. They're not even sticking to the coalition agreement as they fall over themselves to throw their lot in with the Tories.

I suspect that this confirms what Labour party members used to say when I was a member of the Labour party: the Liberals pretend to be radicals of the left, but they are political whores, happy to be radicals of the right as well.

As for reigning in the Tory Eurosceptics... nah. The truth of the matter is that we cannot leave the EU. The Tories know that it would be impossible and economically ruinous and that the Americans would object loudly too.

All the Tories can do is resist further integration publicly (whilst doing it behind the scenes). This is what they've always done anyway. They don't need the Liberals for that.

RJGraham said...

"[P]referential voting could lock in more left of centre governments in the long term."