Five years of coalition government
The 2010 general election saw the formation of the UK’s first coalition government since 1945. In the ensuing five years, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition has pursued its central goal – reducing the budget deficit that arose in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis – via a programme of tax increases, public sector reform and spending cuts. The scale of the cuts to public spending (amounting to 9.5% of overall departmental spending between 2010-11 and 2015-16 (IFS, 2015)) sparked a wave of protest groups, such as ‘UK Uncut’, which argue that the cuts are unnecessary and that they penalise the poor and vulnerable for the mistakes of bankers and governments. The necessity and efficacy of the Coalition’s policies on public spending and public service reform have been a source of controversy throughout the last five years.
The government has also faced increasing controversy over Britain’s membership of the European Union, prompted in large part by another major political development – the rising electoral fortunes of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). From 2012 onwards, UKIP mounted the most substantial independent fourth-party challenge in post-war English politics. In what was undoubtedly, at least in part, an attempt to stem this rising tide of UKIP support, the Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, promised that, if the Conservatives secured a majority in the 2015 general election, they would ‘renegotiate’ Britain’s relationship with the EU with a view to reducing the EU’s power. In 2017, a Conservative government would then hold a referendum on whether or not Britain should remain within the EU (on these renegotiated terms).
The principal aim of this, NatCen’s 32nd British Social Attitudes report, is to assess how the public has reacted to the unique political and economic experiences of the last five years. Have they railed against the cuts, or have they accepted the argument – made by both the Coalition and the opposition Labour Party (Miliband, 2013) – that reductions in public spending are necessary given the economic circumstances? Is the rise of UKIP and David Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU a reflection of an increased mood of Eurosceptism among the public over the past five years? What indeed are the views of those who are now supporting UKIP? At the same time, we reflect on the political health of the nation and look at whether or not there is any evidence that the Coalition’s various attempts to reengage the British public with politics have had any success.
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