Lord Flight was Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 2001-2004. He is now chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund.
The last five years has seen a surprisingly effective Government, given that it has been a Coalition, and given the dire economic situation it inherited. Above all, it has succeeded in getting the economy going. Whether by design or good luck, the mixes of fiscal and monetary policy and of deficit reduction with continuing Keynesian spending support look to have been about right.
The Government has achieved major long term improvements in our education system, with more academies, “free schools” and University Technical Colleges, as well as improving the standards of many other state schools. It has reformed our welfare system to make work pay, and has thus succeeded in getting so many people back into work. I perceive the electorate, if grudgingly, acknowledges the Government’s achievements.
Perhaps the interesting thing is that this has been a Coalition Government – remembering Disraeli’s saying “England does not love Coalitions”. The Liberal Democrats were dishonourable in blocking the long overdue review of Parliamentary boundaries when the Conservatives delivered early on “the other side of the coin” with the referendum on AV. Otherwise, it has been surprising how well Conservative and LibDeml Ministers have worked together, at least in most cases.
While it seems highly likely that the Conservatives will win materially more seats than the Labour Party, the probability of major SNP gains in Scotland and a few Green and UKIP MPs will make it difficult for the Conservatives to achieve an overall majority against all other parties. It thus looks likely to me that there will be a continuation of the Conservative/LibDemCoalition, even though the number of LibDem MPs may decline to circa 25.
I would not rate this a bad outcome for the country or for the Conservative Party. The last five years has demonstrated that a Conservative/Liberal Coalition can govern the country effectively and successfully. I would also anticipate the LibDems being in a weaker negotiating position, and thus being unable to block important tax changes, such as Inheritance Tax reforms.
The villain of British politics is the SNP nakedly willing to act in unprincipled ways to further its own agenda and to cause trouble, if it can, for the 90 per cent of British citizens living outside Scotland. This Government gave Scotland its referendum on independence which was lost decisively – and notwithstanding a poor campaign against independence. I see it as important that the next administration should have an adequate Parliamentary majority in order to put the SNP in its place and to prevent it being able to mess up the government of the realm. It is substantially for this reason that I would have reservations about a Conservative minority government even if, as looks likely, the Conservatives gain significantly more seats than Labour.