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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: May 16, 2011 NO. 20 MAY 19, 2011
Rejecting Change
British voters overwhelmingly reject an alternative voting system

Deeper cuts


OPPOSING TUITION HIKES: University students clash with police in London on November 10, 2010, during a protest against the British Government's plan to triple tuition fees (XINHUA/AFP) 

The public has been prepared for over a year for what is about to come. The impact will start this year and grow deeper over the next three to four years. Social benefits will be reduced, there will be greater pressure on those out of work to find anything that might make them economically productive again, even if it is not their preferred work, and the enormous budget spent on health in particular will come under pressure from a swathe of controversial new reforms.

The defense budget will be reduced, and infrastructure commitments all reviewed, with many postponed or cancelled. An ongoing school building program was halted last year as one of the first to be reviewed, with only a proportion of the promised projects given the green light to continue.

The student demonstrations over tuition fees earlier in the year only showed how much public anger there was, and this was on an issue that affects only a minority of people. Changes to the national health service in particular, with the proposed part privatization of it, will create massive opposition.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has been astute and shrewd in the way in which he has entered into a coalition arrangement, despite many misgivings within his own party, and managed to head off the threat of the alternative vote referendum going against his party's position. So far, the anger has hit the Liberal Democrats, with support for the Conservatives remaining relatively stable. Clegg in particular has become an unpopular and disliked figure.

But Cameron's real test lies ahead. He will be held accountable for one thing, and one thing alone: the economy. If the cuts lead, quickly, to a stronger economic recovery, all will be well and he will probably be returned to power in four years' time with enough of a mandate to form a Conservative only government. If, however, cuts dent public confidence and lead to a worsening of an already delicate situation, the coalition, and the Conservatives, will lose office. And while Cameron's political opponents of course do not want to see him reelected in 2015, nor do they want to see the country's economy become frailer.

The quandary of the Liberal Democrats is in many ways the quandary of the other political parties in the UK too—how to do something about the weak fiscal situation of the country without making things worse. The results of the coalition's proposed course of action won't be known for a number of months. In the meantime, we will just have to wait and see.

The author is a senior fellow with Chatham House, London

(Viewpoints in this article do not necessarily represent those of Beijing Review)

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