Our endorsement for the UK general election

After five years of a coalition government that many thought was not going to last much in office, Britain is going to the polls on Thursday to decide whether Prime Minister David Cameron will get a chance to continue in power –either alone or in a continued coalition– or not. It seems all but certain that the country will have its second hung parliament in a row, an astonishing sea change in British politics, which used to be dominated by a Conservative-Labour duopoly for decades. The big question is: which of the big two will have enough seats to either form a stable coalition government or at least a minority administration supported by one or more minor parties? (At this point, a majority government is all but discarded, although surprises have happened before).

The Great Risk

By all measures, this is the most important election the British electorate has faced since 1979, when a bankrupt Britain chose its first female PM in history and a new era in the country’s political economy began –an era that has still not ended. But this is the first time that the era of a free economy and an open society inaugurated by Margaret Thatcher could be coming to an end. Moreover, if Ed Miliband’s Labour Party comes to power with the help of the left-wing Scottish nationalists, we could see the establishment of the most left-wing government in 36 years.

But the great risk is not just philosophical or economic, it’s also existential. The very existence of the United Kingdom is at risk –once again– by the insatiable SNP secessionists, which only a few months after losing their referendum on Scottish independence, are prepared to demand a new referendum to break up the UK in exchange for support for a Labour government.       

The Coalition’s Record

When almost nobody thought the coalition government formed by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats after the 2010 general election would last much –let alone the whole five years up to the election–, this coalition managed to prove all the pessimists wrong. During the past five years –and despite their differences and sometimes childish disputes–, the coalition government’s parties have been able to accomplish a number of impressive achievements, both from a classical liberal and a pragmatic perspective alike: the deficit has been halved relative to GDP; public expenditure as a percentage of GDP is down; 2 million new private sector jobs have been created; 26 million people have had their income taxes cut and the lowest paid have been taken out of income tax altogether; corporation tax has been cut from 28 to 21 per cent; the 50% top rate of tax has been cut to 45%; welfare has been transformed with the introduction of the Universal Credit and the benefit cap, ensuring work always pays; the freedom to marry has been legalised; education has been revolutionised with the introduction of free schools and academies and greater rigour in schools; the “Right to Buy” scheme has made possible for many to own their own home; trade is up; crime is down; enterprise zones have been created to support small businesses; a Green Investment Bank has been set up; Royal Mail and Northern Rock have been privatised; an EU referendum lock has been passed into law ensuring any further transfer of power to Brussels is put to a vote to the British public. In short, the policy measures this coalition has introduced have produced a freer, more open society and the fastest growing advanced economy in the world. It would have been even freer, more open and with more economic growth without the senseless “immigration cap” introduced to placate the fears of the right-wing of the Tory Party and contain the challenge of the anti-immigration UK Independence Party (Ukip).

The Coalition’s Big Failures  

If we had to mention the big failures of this Coalition –besides the already mentioned and absurd “immigration cap”–, it would be the ferocious attack the Tories led against their Coalition partners during the AV referendum –particularly against Nick Clegg– in order to keep the current first-past-the-post electoral system, a move which ended up damaging their electoral chances in this election, giving the Lib Dems a reason to then oppose the much needed reform of constituency boundaries, which currently overwhelmingly –and unfairly– favour the Labour Party (this being the second terrible failure of the Coalition). These two actions –the ferocious anti-AV Tory campaign and the Lib Dem vote against boundary changes–, only provoked by partisan rancor and shortsightedness, could very well end up giving Britain the most left-wing government in a generation, killing all the progress made during the last five years and the freedom-oriented mindset that has dominated British political life since Thatcherism came to power in 1979.        

What’s in the Manifestos?  

But what are the parties actually proposing for the new Parliament? Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have committed to eliminate the deficit and run a surplus by the end of the Parliament (in the case of the Tories) or by 2018 (in the case of the Lib Dems), they just differ in the way they would get there –while the Tories would concentrate on spending cuts, the Lib Dems would mix spending cuts and tax rises. We prefer the Tory approach. Both coalition parties also agree on protecting the education budget and increasing the NHS budget by £8 billion. Whereas we support the former, we oppose the latter. Both parties’ manifestos also agree on expanding apprenticeships, raising the income tax threshold to £12,500 (the Tories also support raising the 40% tax threshold to £50,000), and offering free childcare for working parents (30 hours a week in the case of the Tories, 15 hours in the case of the Lib Dems). Again, we agree on the first two items, but consider the “free” childcare policy an irresponsible election giveaway.

The Conservatives are also proposing an expansion of the “Right to Buy” policy which would give 1.3 million families the opportunity to own their own home. Related to this, the Lib Dems are proposing a “Rent to Own” scheme to help first time buyers who rent to own a property. Both policies are welcome from our perspective and are in line with the idea of a property-owning democracy. Other welcome policies from the Tory manifesto are the creation of at least 500 new free schools in England by 2020 –a policy the Lib Dems have only reluctantly accepted in coalition–, £12 billion in welfare savings and a benefit cap cut from £26,000 to £23,000 a year. The Tories get it wrong mainly on immigration by committing once again to keeping net migration within the “tens of thousands” and by offering unaffordable spending increases on the NHS and “free” childcare. On the other hand, the Lib Dems once again propose their ill-conceived “mansion tax” (now adopted by Labour too), a rise in corporation tax and unaffordable spending rises on the NHS and childcare as well.

What about Labour? Well, what else can we expect from the most left-wing Labour leader in more than two decades than unaffordable promises? The Labour manifesto proposes a “mansion tax,” a raise in the minimum wage (like the Greens and the SNP), the re-introduction of the 50% top rate of income tax, a freeze on energy bills until 2017, a cut in university fees to £6,000 a year and the repeal of the coalition’s reforms of the NHS. Labour also wants to abolish free schools, guarantee “paid jobs for all young people” out of work for one year and for all those over 25 and out of work for two years, expand “free” childcare to 25 hours per week, raise the bank levy, increase public control over the rail network, and increase spending on the NHS and education.        

The Choice  

It all comes down to the great risk again. Even if most Britons (albeit superficially) probably don’t care about our philosophical reasons to support a continuation of the free economy and open society era, does the British public really want to risk the economic recovery of the last five years handing in the keys of Number 10 to the most left-wing PM in 36 years? Do they really want a government held hostage by a group of secessionists eager to break up the United Kingdom? Do they really think a Labour government propped up by the SNP would come at no expense? We believe the risk facing Britain is too great to stand still or look for the comfort of partisan tribes. That’s why we think British voters should be very careful about who they vote for depending on the constituency where they live. In other words, they should vote tactically.

In Conservative-Labour marginals, we would vote for the Conservative candidate. In Lib Dem-Labour marginals, we would vote for the Lib Dem candidate. In Conservative-Lib Dem marginals, we would vote for the candidate closer to our classical liberal values –free markets and open societies–, irrespective of party.  

All in all, we believe this coalition has been a success and Britain would be best served by a second Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government with David Cameron as Prime Minister and Nick Clegg as Deputy (or having an important role in the new cabinet). Both Cameron and Clegg showed courage by agreeing to team up and defying their parties’ extremes, and they should be rewarded for doing so.

We hope that, on Thursday, the British people reflect on the choices they have in front of them, and choose the stability, common-sense and freedom-centred approach of a second Lib-Con coalition.