Wednesday, 18 August 2010

UK's historic coalition government marks first 100 days in office

Britain's coalition government, the first since World War Two, marks its first 100 days in office as UK trade unions attack spending cuts saying the lowest paid workers could be hit the hardest.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM,UK POOL - Britain's first coalition government since World War Two marked its first 100 days in office on Wednesday (August 18).
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he was proud of the governments' achievements during a CentreForum think-tank event as he took over from Prime Minister David Cameron, who was on holiday.

"As of today the new coalition government is 100 days old, inevitably there is lots of discuss about our performance to date. Everyone will have their own view about the kind of start that we have made. I'm really proud of the achievements so far," Clegg said.

An ICM survey for the Guardian showed 46-percent of those interviewed felt the coalition government was doing a "good job" with 36-percent who felt the opposite. This was a drop in margin from June which showed a 23 point gap.

Assistant Editor and Political Commentator for the Guardian, Michael White said Cameron had done well on domestic policy.

"Cameron has done quite well. He has made mistakes a number of of foreign policy errors, with the president of Pakistan the other day, made a silly slip about 1940 and the Americans being the senior partner against Hitler, wrong year and so on and so forth. On domestic policy he has generally been surer," he said.

White added that unless a real disaster hits the UK, he expects the coalition government to through to the next election in 2015.

"My assumption is that unless a real disaster hits the country, an economic disaster, factors outside our control, things go wrong in the wider world economy which ranges from war to natural disaster, via resumed economic depression, I assume if that doesn't happen, the coalition will sort of battle on, perhaps stagger on, getting more unpopular. They will say 'we are seeing it through, we are doing the right thing, you will begin to see the benefits by the time we have the next election'," he said.

Director of Political Research at YouGov, Joe Twyman said although Cameron was doing well in the polls, support for the coalition was dropping.

"David Cameron is doing relatively well as prime minister, but really it is all about him as part of the wider coalition, that is the important thing for the people. And whereas David Cameron's support and the Conservative party's support have been able to be maintained over his course as prime minister. What we are seeing is the government, the coalition is dropping."

Britain's trade unions launched an attack on public spending cuts to mark the coalition's 100th day in office, setting the scene for an autumn battle with the government as it reveals where the axe will fall.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, which came to power on May 11, has pledged to cut departmental spending by at least 25 percent as it tackles a budget deficit running at around 11 percent of national output.

Senior Policy Officer in the Economics Department of Trades Union Congress, Nicola Smith said in 100 days there have been 100 cuts hitting the most vulnerable and poorest in the community.

"Over the last 100 days we have seen a hundred cuts that have hit the most vulnerable and poorest communities across our society the hardest. We have seen cuts in long-term support for unemployed young people, we have seen cuts for women at risk of domestic violence, we have seen cuts in support for children and nursery funding and for building extended schools and providing childcare," she said.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has joined with charities such as Oxfam to call for a fairness test to guarantee budget cuts do not hit the lowest paid workers hardest.

Unions warned the government's austerity measures, which are expected to result in around 600,000 public sector job losses, risked pushing the British economy back into recession.

While some savings were outlined in an emergency budget in June, the bulk of cuts will be set out in a spending review on October 20, a day on which unions have promised protests.

The TUC, which represents 6.5 million workers, called on the government to reconsider its planned cuts to public services and focus instead on other ways to reduce the deficit, such as a tax on financial institutions for foreign exchange, derivatives trading and share transactions.

"The real risk of these sharp cuts is that we are going to see lower growth, lower tax revenue, an increase risk of economic stagnation or even a double dip recession and that is going to take us even further away from being able to reduce the deficit. What we need to see is the deficit reduction timetable taking place over a longer period and a far fairer balance between tax rises and spending cuts," Smith added.

Public opinion of the streets of London was mixed.

Philip Clarke was impressed with Cameron engaging with local people to talk about issues.

"I think the fact that he is engaging with the people, he is actually going to meet people and chat about various issues, that impresses me," he said.

Londoner Serena Williams was unsure of Cameron but placed her support behind the coalition government.

"No I really can't comment but I do like the coalition though."

While Henry Davey likened the coalition government to a strict school teacher.

"There is a kind of a feeling that we all have been messing around while the naughty teacher is taking the class and we all know that we actually have to knuckle down and do our homework and the strict teacher has come along and said, 'stop messing around'. I think that is kind of the vibe really," he said.

The TUC's policy officer said public opinion might change once people have seen how the spending cuts affect their local services and communities.

"It does seem fair to presume that once the spending cuts actually start to hit people's services, people's communities and people can see the problems that are being caused in their local areas as a result of this very sharp and quick withdrawal of public funding, the public opinion may start to change," Nicola Smith said.