To begin with, I’ll just direct people here to the full text of the Coalition Agreement with the Conservative Party. If you haven’t read it yet, it might be handy as this entire blog post is basically me talking about it. So, without any further ado, my views on the deal.
This section seems pretty tame, we have £6bn in spending cuts, likely coming through internal efficiency savings (my personal favourite would be scrapping internal purchasing in the NHS, but we’ll see), which is I sense more than doable without major hurt in terms of jobs or frontline services. Nice to see that reductions to the Child Trust Fund and tax credits for higher earners both made it in as well.
The biggest three items here are we’ve committed to the increase in the NHS budget and of course, Pupil Premiums, one of the most popular policies on the doorstep is in, as is restoring the link between pensions & earnings. We’ve also got a commitment on a new Strategic Defence & Spending Reviews, in which it seems the cost-effectiveness of Trident will be considered, which is what the Lib Dems wanted in the first place. It seems likely that unless we get multi-lateral disarmament, we will have for a period more some form of Nuclear Deterrence in Britain, but as to what form that will take, we shall see.
We’ve got a commitment for raising the income tax threshold to £10,000, which again was one of our most popular policies on the doorstep, perhaps not as quickly as we’d like, but exact details as to how they’ll play out we’ll see in the Emergency Budget. But it should be the highest priority. Per-plane duty is also in and will be used to help fund the raising on the income tax threshold. Overall, the 10k threshold is the most important thing, especially in Wales and Ceredigion and it is very good we’ve gotten the Tories to back this.
Cutting bank bonuses, a bank levy, improving the flow of credit to smaller businesses. We will also be trying to separate investment and retail banking, which should theoretically shield private citizens from another Credit Crunch style collapse. We’ve also agreed to hold off on the Euro for this Parliament, something that was in our Manifesto. All in all, some pretty needed banking reforms and I’m happy with this section.
We’ve managed to arrange an end to the detention of children for immigration purposes, a major campaign we’ve tried to do. We’ve also agreed to work towards a mechanism for determining a cap on non-EU immigration, which to me sounds like it will be flexible, as opposed to the more arbitrary limit the Tories wanted. Again, seems fair although I’ll reserve judgement on the cap for now.
Here we’ve gotten much more than I though was ever possible from the Tories. We’ve progress to a fairer voting system for the House of Commons, but clearly we aren’t all the way there yet. We also have a deal on fixed term Parliaments and right of recall is also in, which is a major constitutional reform improvement. And of course we still have a committee to lay down the process for creating a partly or fully elected House of Lords. House of Commons reform and a solution to the West Lothian Question will be explored. Not too bad and certainly much better than I thought we would get, we just need it implemented now.
Pensions & Welfare
There’s an end to a compulsory retirement age, meaning people can work for as long as they chose and a slight increase to the default retirement age, there’s a commitment to fair and transparent payments to Equitable Life policy holders. A unified welfare to work is also going to be created. No real opinion on this section to be frank though, perhaps someone closer to the age where this will affect you can voice their thoughts on this.
School Reform seems okay to me, no real issues with it. It is however when we begin to talk about Higher Education that I get really worried. Whilst the aims seem acceptable to me, it is this line that worries me “If the response of the Government to Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.” My worry here is that if the Browne report recommends and increase in Tuition Fees, we’ll be forced to abstain. Although I’d imagine a good number of MPs may well rebel if that were to happen. We’ll see though.
It seems we moved a bit further towards the Tories when it comes to Europe, lots about preserving our sovereignty and our legal system, but not quite enough movement on political reform of the European Union, but there’s nothing in here I can really object to.
This is an area where we seem to have had a lot of impact, the Freedom Bill is basically the same as was proposed by us, something the Tories agreed on anyways. Very happy with this section, especially ID Cards and defence of the right to protest and of course a clamp down on silly criminal offences.
This section looks pretty good to me. I’m no expert on the environment, but again there’s nothing here that sounds weird to me and I’m very pleased to see a commitment to High Speed Rail investment, which can hopefully be partnered by improving existing service, particularly when it comes to rural rail services.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with this deal. It isn’t perfect, especially on Higher Education, but all in all, its a pretty solid deal and I think that Britain and Wales will be well served by it. It certainly isn’t a sell out deal as many have suggested and after my initial trepidation yesterday, I’ve now come around to this deal. This, I can live with.
- Greg Foster