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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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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