The worst thing about the coalition? The wasted opportunities

The chance to build a different kind of economy after the crash was lost. For real change, voters should look to the Greens.

As the saying goes, as one door closes, a window opens. Sadly the coalition’s approach to the feng shui of government has been to slam shut important policy windows, bolt the doors and throw away the key. This is a government of wasted opportunity.

2008-2010 represented a period of dramatic change – not just in the financial markets but in the arena of economic debate. As the housing boom turned to bust, questions were asked of the fable that unshackled capitalism, big business and endless growth should be the raison d’etre of government policy.

Paul Gilding’s book The Great Disruption: How the climate crisis will transform the global economy used a Boserupian framework to argue that, unless large (though ultimately positive) changes are made to our world economy, 2008 will only be a taste of things to come. Even David Cameron, leader of a party which, as its name suggests, is not generally enthusiastic about change, promised a great deal. He was snapped hugging hoodies and huskies, he added a lick of green (wash) to the Conservative emblem and he talked up the importance of people’s happiness as a guiding principle of government.

The latter of these points built upon a decade of important work in social science interrogating the assumed wisdom that happiness is inexorably linked to economic growth. Richard Layard’s book Happiness laid some of the foundations since built upon by the likes of the new economics foundation (nef). Layard showed how unequal societies driven by the need to earn more money and accumulate more goods are not only destructive to the earth but also to people’s happiness. Happier societies are those built on community values, family-life and a declaration of stalemate in the war to keep up with the Joneses.

Against this background, 2010 was supposed to be an election of great change. The public were prepared for it. We all bought into the idea that there was going to be painful but necessary change as easily as we have bought into the world of cats pulling grumpy faces. Sadly, the government let us down. Change, yes. Painful, undoubtedly. Positive, no. George Osborne has gone back to fuelling a housing bubble as if 2008 never happened. They’ve taken a slash and burn approach to benefits. Not only is action on climate change now off the menu but we’ve regressed to a point where denying its very existence is an okay thing to say in a mainstream broadsheet newspaper. Even Labour’s not-really-that-left-wing announcements at conference have been easily portrayed as the ghosts of Communist past. The coalition has divided and conquered.

What’s become apparent is that if you want real change, you have to vote for it – rather than expecting it from established parties who promise much but are ultimately encased by the trappings of their traditional backers, funders, and thinkers.

That’s why I’m a Green Party supporter: because they’re a party that believes in, and is committed to, change. They don’t think it unreasonable to give everyone a bigger slice of the pie when currently the top 1% possess the same wealth as 60% of the UK population combined. They don’t think it strange to suggest that everyone should earn at least the living wage – one that they can build a life around. They believe in the importance of community and a rejection of the old idiom that we live to work. They don’t think that privatisation has been a resounding success – not least for the railways. And, they believe we can tackle climate change and do so in a way that builds a better future around renewable energy and a sustainable and creative use of resources.

If you’re not satisfied with your current government provider and you’re thinking of switching, I’d certainly urge you to investigate the positive vision offered by the Greens.

Matt Hawkins is co-media office of the London Green Party

David Cameron and Nick Clegg visit Wandsworth Day Nursery on March 19, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Matt Hawkins is co-media officer of the London Green Party

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.