Economy and Coalition
The last few weeks have been interesting ones in Westminster, with arguments over House of Lords reform dominating last week in particular. Government is never easy. Governing during a global economic crisis and in a coalition is even harder.
It can be all too easy for MPs to get caught up in the political intrigue and battles with opposition parties, and it can be useful to step back sometimes and remind ourselves of the basic problems we are facing. I was struck during a conversation with a non-political friend last week by a simple observation she made. We were discussing the current situation in the country as a whole, and she summed up the two principle challenges in one sentence when she said:
"As I see it, the Government has two main problems. Firstly, everything you do every day about every issue has to be a compromise between two different political parties with different ideas and philosophies. Secondly, there's no money left."
She was absolutely right. The first point acknowledges that coalition government is something the UK isn't used to, and it's difficult. I strongly support the coalition, because it was the best solution following the inconclusive general election in 2010 to create a stable government capable of dealing with the economic mess we inherited. But inevitably it prevents us from doing some things we want. For example if the Conservative Party was in government without the Liberal Democrats we would be tougher on Europe, tougher on immigration and we would be reforming or abolishing the Human Rights Act.
The second observation, however, is the fundamental problem the country and the government faces. There is still no money, and there is no quick way to fix that. We took over in 2010 after the deepest recession since the 1930s, with one of the worst deficits in the developed world. Trying to run the country when it is effectively broke is incredibly difficult, and it will take many more years to pull Britain out of the record debt the last government left us in.
I firmly believe that the deficit is the biggest strategic threat facing the country today. You only have to look across the Channel to see what can happen when a country loses control of its finances. Greece is still a basket case. Last week in Spain they were firing plastic bullets on the streets of Madrid. Dealing with the deficit is not optional. Failure to do so would be a disaster. We have made a good start - by taking difficult (and unpopular) decisions we have reduced the deficit by a quarter. But despite that, we still have a deficit on a level with Greece! That's how bad it was when we took over.
So to end on a more positive note, what does the picture look like when we look at these two issues - the difficulty of governing in coalition and the crippling deficit we are still dealing with - together. Well, the reason I remain a strong supporter of the Coalition Government is because of its stance on the deficit. Despite the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats not always seeing eye to eye on every issue, there isn't a cigarette paper between the two of us on the need to grip the deficit. It is the number one problem facing the country and the cause of many other problems. Two of the main British political parties recognise and agree on that, and will keep working together to fix it.