One of the greatest tricks David Cameron pulled on the country was when people voted Conservative; they thought they were voting for the coalition.
The country saw before the election five years of stable government and economic competence. The cost of rescuing the economy shared around with the richest taking the biggest load. As has been pointed out by John Rentoul in The Independent, for all the overheated language from the left about inequality, the record of the Coalition was surprisingly good.
Almost all the great ideas of the coalition weren’t Tory, but they relentlessly took credit for it in their leaflets and their rhetoric; three million apprenticeships; help with childcare; the Pupil Premium; massive rise in the basic income tax allowance; and the triple lock on pensions.
All delivered in a time of austerity.
Now people are acting surprised as the Conservatives stand by their election pledge to slash £12Bn from the welfare budget.
It’s not as though it was a secret. Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander drew voters’ attention to it, but you can’t blame the electorate for not reading the small print. When the electorate saw the vicious cuts proposed they assumed it was going to be the workshy and scroungers who would see the worst of it, not the working poor. In coalition budgets the disabled and the vulnerable were protected by Nick Clegg’s veto. As Nick has confirmed, he would have stopped the cuts to the Personal Independence Payments from ever getting off the ground. ‘I blocked similar,’ he said.
Tory economic competence has proved to be a mirage. Bad economics and terrible politics was the way Vince Cable has described the Tory chaos of recent days. I couldn’t agree more.
Yet Labour are just as culpable. With the Government in meltdown, their failure to do that very basic function of an opposition - oppose, has been lamentable. Whichever analogy you wish to use for Labour’s ineffectiveness, be it open goals, fish in barrels or falling off logs, to not exploit Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation whist the Government have literally been taking candy off a baby is unforgivable.
George Osborne no doubt thought he was being clever when he sneered in his budget speech that he was going to: “abolish the Liberal Democrats.” Yet, a Liberal Democrat in Government would have preventing him making the biggest foul up of any Chancellor in living memory. Not so smug now, eh George?
Compassionate conservatism never really existed within their activist base. Neither has the idea of Labour fiscal competence. They are now both parties being driven by their extremes, coming up with ever more extreme ideological policies. That is not a reflection of most of the British public: reasonable, fair-minded people who want their economy run sensibly and we saw that during the coalition. That voice has now been lost.