Politics – A Very British Revolution?

Not all revolutions involve bloodshed and the toppling of regimes, indeed on 4th January 1809 in Coupvray, a small town near Paris in France, a revolutionary was born who would change the lives of millions of ordinary people just like himself, and whose name and revolutionary work are still celebrated today, over 200 years later.

His father was a shoemaker and the young Louis Braille enjoyed playing in his father’s workshop until one day, while his father was not watching, the young Louis accidentally punctured his eye with an awl, a sharp tool used to punch holes in leather. Infection eventually set in and spread to his other eye, leaving Louis completely blind.

In 1829, Louis Braille published the method of writing words using six raised dots to represent the standard alphabet, named after the young revolutionary the system of raised dots is called Braille and enables blind people of any age to read with the tips of their fingers.

Radical and revolutionary are not words often associated with the Conservative cause, and yet the fact that the coalition is radical and revolutionary is as much due to the Conservative Party as it is to the Liberal Democrats.

In June 2010, in the national interest, at a time when the Eurozone was tearing itself apart and the US President and Congress were in economic deadlock, in the United Kingdom there was a revolution fit for our times as the people decided (and, despite everything written since, that was the mood of the country at the time) that no single party was fit to govern this great nation of ours alone.

The coaltion was not a coalition of the willing, it was a revolution by the people that forced the coming together of two diametrically opposing philosophies at the bidding of and in the interests of the nation.

It was a revolution that changed the very nature of British politics for the better, because in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, thanks to one of the coaltion’s quiet revolutions, we know that the general election will be held on May 7, 2015, and that (unless, in a true crisis, new and demanding criteria are met for a premature dissolution of Parliament) David Cameron and Nick Clegg have a little less than two-and-a-half years to complete their work.

There has been much time wasted by those in the fringes of both Governing parties speculating on when the coalition will end, and yet the coalition has endured all of that specuation remarkably well, and the reason for that survival is simple, thanks to the passing of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 for once in British Politics there really is no alternative.

The trouble with velvet revolutions is that they are so easily forgotten. In the next few days the Coalition will kick-start the political New Year with its Mid-Term Review. Much will be said and written about its contents, and rightly so.

There will be tick-box audits measuring the sucess or failure of the coalition to meet each and every promise set out in the coaltion document, and there will be tick-box audits of each partner in the coalition to achieve the promises set out in its individual manifesto.

The trouble with tick-box audits is that nobody ever really believes them because nobody ever really believes that what the Government of the day has done is what they laid out in the manifesto. This time however there is going to be a need for those tick box audits, if only to show what has been gained as a result of the loss of individual policy platforms such as ‘no rise in tuition fees’ from the Liberal Democrats or ‘no rise in capital gains tax’ from the Conservatives.

There is an old saying in these parts that creaking gates last longest and this coalition is certainly creaking. 2012 was definitely the year of the detractors with Conservative rebellions on Lords reform and Lib Dem counter rebellions on boundary changes, but the core value of the coalition (and yes it is right to call it a value) that the national deficit must be tackled held firm.

If there was going to be a budget that snapped the coalition it would have been the one coming this April, and yet the coalition holds firm despite the misgivings of the Liberal Democrats that we are not spending enough or of the Conservatives that we are spending too much, and most importantly the deficit continues to shrink.

For over 20 years the British Economic message has been ‘Europe or Bust’ and yet this Government, with pro-european Liberal Democrats at its heart, has successfully steered British exports in to a much wider global markets. Less than a half of British exports are now to the European Union, and British exports and British manufacturing continue to grow.

We enter 2012 with unemployment finally falling, even youth unemployment is falling which is something the previous Labour Government failed miserably to achieve, and employment is at its highest level in modern times. Yes there are still a lot of people with part time work rather than full, but that too is rebalancing in the economy as confidence returns.

So, over the next few days and throughout 2013 let us not just dwell on the weaknesses and the perceived failings of the coalition, let us instead look at its successes.

If the coalition was to have fallen apart it would have been last year, not this, and yet the key players remain on cordial terms, defying all the sceptics and doommerchants with their ability to talk in a civilised and constructive fashion.

You have to remember how quintessentially English this revolution is with its problems resolved not in a culture of blame and confrontation but rather with a certain amount of charm and negotiation. For generations the British people have been calling on politicians to stop arguing amongst themselves and to work together in the national interest.

David Cameron’s greatest achievement to date has been to turn his failure to win the 2010 election into a success story: the formation of a bipartisan government fit for a moment of national economic crisis.

Nick Clegg, despite his poor oppinion poll rating, is the leader who brought the Liberals back into power in peacetime for the first time since 1922.

Together they overcame the natural revulsion of the two parties towards each other to pull off the deal. Together, despite all the disquiet in both parties, they have ensured not only that the deal endures, but also that it is fit for purpose.

The fact that the Liberal Democrats, in Government, were able to substantially re-write the NHS Act, and the fact that the party members were able to exert such powerful pressure on their members of Government is a clear testimony to the internal democracy of the party, and the fact that the Conservative ministers in the end allowed their judgement to be guided by that grass roots rebellion demonstrated a lack of democratic control in their own party that they are almost certain now to address. The robust nature of the coalition agreement is therefore far more intriguing in the changes it invokes in the body politic as a whole than any small spats on the sidelines about individual policies.

My guess is that the Mid-Term Review will be a combination of an assessment and rephrasing of the Government’s achievements together with a measure for measure assessment of individual policy positions, showing what each partner has given up and gained by doing so. Such detail is important, but so too is the wash of the canvass

Cameron and Clegg should reassert the positive virtues of coalition, not as the least worst option available, but as a form of grown-up government intrinsically suited to the needs of the age. They should ring clear the fact that pluralistic politics is the right way forward in the 21st Century.

This will mean not only presenting their partnership as the product of parliamentary arithmetic but also highlighting the fact that is arose as a response to the economic disaster bequeathed it by the previous Labour administration. When people sacked around 100 Labour MP’s and the party suffered its worst defeat in living memory, it was for a reason and that reason must not be allowed to be forgotten or washed from the canvass of British politics at the whim of Labour’s spin doctors.

The simplicity of the case for coalition is often lost amongst the small battles and the bickering, but come the next election the fact that that this is a Government defined by the national interest, and capable of much more than austerity measures, will be the defining message of the election.

Looking at the oppinion polls the only thing that is clear is that the next General election will see either a return to the uncertainties of the minority governments suffered in the 1970’s or the continuation of the principle of pluralistic coalition politics, and actually the latter is resulting in the sort of government that even in difficult times protects the poor, taxes the rich and makes policy based on evidence rather than instinct.

Whilst the Greeks take to the streets, the Eurozone nations play the blame game and the US play a dangerous game of brinksmanship, it is fascinating to live through and experience has been described as ‘A Very British Revolution’.


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