In the recent political history of this country, power changes hands when a significant event or two leaves the public dissatisfied. As a Chancellor who took minimal provisions to combat economic decline in the run up to the financial crisis, and the Prime Minister who oversaw the crisis, Gordon Brown ultimately left the public more than discontented, and ready for a new direction after Labour’s 13 year reign. Going back further, in 1997, the Conservatives 18 year hold on office came to an end after Major’s disastrous cabinet split alongside scandal and European uncertainty; the final straw on top of Thatcher’s controversial legacy of war on miners, the poll tax, and harsh economic policy against the backdrop of an all encompassing welfare state.
In this sense, the question of ‘do the Conservatives deserve to be voted out of office’ results in a resounding no. The inability to point to an event tantamount to the financial crisis or blatant perjury such as the Iraq war, proves in itself that there is no immediate reason for the government to be replaced.
Yet a distinction exists between not deserving to be voted out, and actually deserving to be re-elected, which we will examine by judging the government’s progress (mostly looking at the Tories), against their coalition commitments, taking into account contextual and structural factors.
In order to judge whether the Conservatives deserve to be re-elected, it is necessary to revisit the commitments made by the Tories in 2010, after all, these commitments were the premise for their election in 2010. First and foremost, the Tories preached the need to cut the deficit; within the context of the 2008 financial crisis, this is the foundation of the Conservative mandate to rule (along with their coalition partners). Website ‘cameronsdashboard.co.uk’ compiles over 400 pledges made in the coalition agreement, into several categories and measures the government’s progress against said pledges.
In deficit reduction, the government have been awarded 70% completion by the site, Ed McRandal noting that “The Government has repeatedly affirmed its political commitment to deficit reduction”, successfully creating the Office for Budget Responsibility, and “the Government has reduced the deficit by a quarter in just two years and more recent figures state that the deficit has been cut by a third”. Yet delays in the timetable for deficit reduction (cuts will continue into 2016/17 according to Osborne), and changes to tax credits affecting those who the coalition pledged to protect, according to the Labour party, highlight that the coalition have yet to complete all of its goals, despite its solid work overall within this area.
Jobs, welfare and pension reforms have arguably been the most high profiled of the Coalition's policies, attracting much commentary from experts, outraged progressives, and memes from the social media realm. Yet structural issues exist when discussing whether the Conservatives deserve to be re-elected, whilst focusing on these areas. Many people disagree with the reforms made by the Tories, but if their commitments were to make the changes that made people unhappy, have the Tories truly failed, or are they being judged unfairly by a noisy cross-section of ideology? And surely if the Tories were the most popular party at the 2010 election, then a silent majority agree with the reforms initiated. The pledge tracker elucidates that the coalition have achieved ten of the eleven pledges set, giving a 91% completion rate in the Jobs & Welfare category, and a solid 71% completion rate in regards to Pensions and Older People.
To the universal credit of the Coalition, minimum wage has been increased, Jobseekers allowance claimants are at a four-year low, and conditions of unemployment benefits have been put in place in line with pledges. Other more unpopular pledges birthing policies such as the infamous ‘bedroom tax’ have been met, but whether this is interpreted as success or failure is down to personal opinion. This article’s criteria for success is measuring progress against pledges within the context of a languishing economy, and in this regard, Coalition policy, no doubt spearheaded by the Conservatives, has been largely successful, in a) completing what the government said they would, and b) reducing spending, thus cutting the deficit keeping with the Tories overall goal.
But this isn’t the case in all areas of policy. Families and Children (15% of pledges met), Consumers Protection (22% of pledges met), Transport (25% of pledges met), and Europe (33% of pledges met), display the lack of depth to the Coalition’s governance, as other than economic reform and basic social reform (Civil Liberties 64% complete, both Equalities and Social Action 57% complete), the Coalition have failed to meet many a pledge in many an area of government. Once again, whether this truly means success or failure of the Coalition is down to interpretation. Considering economic policy was intrinsic to the Conservative campaign, and other policy areas merely peripheral, this article will not see lack of pledges met in subordinate areas of government as a failure, but rather a warning in the context of a nnnnnn economy which is passed the worst of slump and recession, that if re-elected, these areas of government require more attention.
Considering the lack of a major event of significance to detract from the Conservatives, as previously discussed, it can be argued that the Tories do not explicitly deserve to be voted out of office. As to whether they deserve another term, in relation to the pledges most emphasised by both pre and post-election, most have been met, the country being better off for this. Consequently this article’s methodology considers the Coalition a success and deem the Tory’s worthy of another term (majority or not).
Things are rarely as black and white as they appear, and this case is no different. The Conservatives have done as they set out to do, but does this mean they automatically deserve another term? Churchill, after victory in the Second World War, was rewarded with a loss at the polls in 1945; the public, whilst grateful for Churchill’s efforts, deciding that Attlee and Labour’s vision for the future was far more promising. The economy is mending, and the deficit is narrowing - but is that alone sufficient to secure another term for the Tories? Or, is the more likely scenario, a construct of an economy on the brink of peril, protected only by a Tory government from the evils of Labour’s borrowing, as necessary to scare people to the polls and return a Tory government. The Conservatives may deserve re-election, but for undoubtedly have their work cut out for them in order to achieve an outcome of such.
By Adam Isaacs