The coalition’s year in numbers

Growth down, inflation up, public spending down, debt up – the story of the coalition in numbers.

It's now exactly a year since David Cameron and Nick Clegg stood together in the rose garden of No 10 and promised a "new politics". So, to mark the first anniversary of the coalition, I've put together some charts and graphs on the stats that define the government's year in office. Below are the numbers and a commentary on them.

History teaches us that numbers and statistics can come to define a government. Think of how the figure of three million unemployed became a shorthand for the failures of Thatcherism, or of how "Old Labour" is now remembered for marginal rates of tax as high as 98 per cent.

The current coalition will be remembered as the government that increased VAT to a record level of 20 per cent and that raised the cap on university tuition fees to £9,000. Ministers pledged that universities would charge the full amount in "exceptional circumstances" only, but of the 91 universities that have publicly announced their plans, 62 intend to charge the maximum fee.

University applications increased by just 2.1 per cent this year, compared to 15.3 per cent last year, a sign that young people are being deterred from applying even before higher fees kick in.

Nick Clegg, the man whose political credibility was destroyed by the decision to triple fees, has few reasons to be cheerful after the first year of the coalition. His approval rating has fallen from a post-debate high of +53 to -18 and support for the Liberal Democrats has plummeted from 21 per cent in May 2010 to just 8 per cent today. Chris Huhne's memorable prediction that support for his party would fall to 5 per cent may yet come true.

The Conservatives have fared significantly better. Support for David Cameron's party has fallen from a peak of 44 per cent in July 2010 to 36 per cent today but this remains the same level of support as achieved at the last general election. Cameron's own approval rating has fallen from a peak of +31 in July 2010 to -3, a poor, but not terrible, figure.

The economy continues to be plagued by a toxic combination of sluggish growth, high inflation and high unemployment. The jobless total (7.8 per cent) is slightly lower than it was a year ago, but youth unemployment, which now stands at 963,000 (20.4 per cent), has continued to rise. Private-sector employment has increased by 428,000 but public-sector workers are being laid off faster than expected, with 132,000 jobs lost over the past 12 months.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast that there will be 310,000 fewer public-sector jobs by 2014-2015, a figure that now looks like an underestimate. Meanwhile, growth of just 0.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2011, which merely recovered the lost output from the previous quarter, means that the economy has not grown in the past six months.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development now expects Britain to grow at a slower pace than every other G7 economy with the exception of crisis-hit Japan. George Osborne may avoid a double-dip recession but an anaemic recovery now looks inevitable.

Party support and pproval ratings

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Source: YouGov; Ipsos MORI

The economy

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Sources: ONS; OBR Economic and Fiscal Outlook – March 2011

Employment

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Sources: ONS Labour Force Survey; OBR Economic and Fiscal Outlook – March 2011; CEBR

Higher education

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Sources: Ucas; Times Higher Education Supplement

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.