FIVE years ago, The Yorkshire Post challenged David Cameron and Nick Clegg to form Britain’s first coalition since the war. The 2010 election result demanded this because no party had won a clear mandate, an outcome that is likely to be replicated next Thursday. And so did economic necessity – the country was still in the grips of the financial crisis and there was an urgent need to bring the public finances under control.
Now this newspaper has decided that the future interests of Yorkshire – and the rest of the United Kingdom – will be best served by a continuation of the status quo for a further five years: a Conservative-led administration, supported by the Liberal Democrats as a moderating force, so both parties can complete their mission to eradicate the deficit and build a stronger and more prosperous nation from the centre ground.
An outright majority, even by the narrowest of margins, will be beyond the reach of the Tories and Labour next Thursday
This conclusion stems from a realisation that an outright majority, even by the narrowest of margins, will be beyond the reach of the Tories and Labour next Thursday – Mr Cameron’s chances have not been helped by Eurosceptics deserting his party in favour of Ukip while Ed Miliband, still in denial about the last Labour government’s dismal financial record, could easily find himself at the mercy of the insurgent Scottish National Party who seem intent on breaking up and bankrupting Britain in equal measure.
Given this backdrop, it would be unwise to undo the significant progress that the coalition has made on cutting the deficit – still the defining issue of these times – since 2010. This was not an overnight job, it was always going to be a 10-year turnaround programme. And contrary to the low expectations when the coalition was formed, Mr Cameron’s administration has risen to the challenge and put in place the foundations for a new generation of jobs and prosperity. Britain is now a far more confident country, even though growth remains sluggish. And, while there have been many occasions when the Prime Minister’s ambition has been thwarted by the Lib Dems, Mr Clegg does deserve credit – and respect – for taking uncomfortable decisions, such as his volte-face on student tuition fees, in order to maintain a strong and stable government.
Like all governments, this coalition has made mistakes – the NHS top-down reorganisation was an unhelpful distraction and an undue amount of time was spent in the early months on constitutional changes rather than making early progress on rebalancing the economy to the benefit of the North.
Conversely, its reforms on education and welfare have, in many respects, been far bolder than those undertaken by single-party governments that enjoyed the luxury of commanding Commons majorities and Mr Cameron made a profound point during Thursday night’s Question Time special in Leeds when he said: “We should say to young people – you should be earning or learning. You can’t start your life on benefits. That’s not how we should run Britain today.”
Though the next Parliament will have many challenges that could destabilise the Tories in particular, not least Scotland’s future and the UK’s longer-term relationship with the European Union, a mature debate can still be undertaken in a way that does not detract from providing all youngsters with the skills that will enable them to prosper in a low-tax economy and the infrastructure investment that puts Yorkshire in the vanguard of Britain’s economic renaissance.
In this regard, the Tories and Liberal Democrats have come a long way since 2010. Then their desire to rebalance the economy was an aspiration. Now they want growth in the North to match the rest of the UK over the course of the next Parliament, a statement of intent that is both ambitious and laudable. Having undertaken much of the heavy lifting, they have earned the right to complete their mission and create a pro-business society which rewards endeavour, enterprise and excellence across all sections of society, while showing compassion to the most vulnerable. Britain expects and deserves nothing less.
NHS is a sick beast: Dither is not a lasting remedy
WHEN the next Government is formed, one of its most critical tasks will be the future of the National Health Service. It is a sick beast – hospital trusts across Yorkshire are more than £100m in the red – and this is before difficult decisions are taken on the long-term sustainability of some functions.
However, despite the simplistic view taken by some politicians, Ministers do need to look at the bigger picture – waiting times in A&E are just as likely to be tackled by improvements to social care for the elderly than the recruitment of extra medical staff. The longer that this exercise is put off, the harder it will be to implement a lasting remedy.