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How 14 years of Conservative government have changed Britain

1 week ago 44

Before Thursday’s landslide Labour victory, Britain had been led by the Conservatives for the past 14 years. But the party had grown unpopular.

There was a widespread feeling among voters that something had gone awry under Conservative Party government, that the country was stagnating, if not in perilous decline.

Nearly three-quarters of the public said the country is worse off than it was 14 years ago, the London-based pollster YouGov found in one survey before the vote. More than 46 percent of people believed it was “much worse.” And to some extent, economic and other data backed that up.

14 years under Tory rule

$1

$2

$1.5

’08

’09

General elections:

’10

May 11, 2010

David Cameron

’11

’12

’13

’14

Scottish independence

referendum

’15

Brexit referendum

’16

July 13, 2016

Theresa May

’17

’18

July 24, 2019

’19

Britain leaves the E.U.

’20

Boris Johnson

’21

Sept. 6 - Oct. 25 2022

’22

Liz Truss

’23

Rishi Sunak

’24

July 4, 2024

Cost of living

Bristish Consumer Prices Index,

including owner occupiers’ housing costs.

Scottish independence

referendum

8%

4

’08

’10

’12

’14

’16

’18

’20

’22

’24

What goods and services

costing £100 in 2010

would cost ...

Sources: Britain’s Office for National Statistics,

Bank of England

14 years under Tory rule

$1

$2

$1.5

’08

’09

General elections:

’10

May 11, 2010

David Cameron

’11

’12

’13

’14

Scottish independence

referendum

’15

Brexit referendum

’16

July 13, 2016

Theresa May

’17

’18

July 24, 2019

’19

Britain leaves the E.U.

’20

Boris Johnson

’21

Sept. 6 - Oct. 25 2022

’22

Liz Truss

’23

Rishi Sunak

’24

July 4, 2024

Cost of living

British Consumer Price Index, including owner

occupiers’ housing costs.

Scottish independence

referendum

8%

4

’08

’10

’12

’14

’16

’18

’20

’22

’24

What goods and services

costing £100 in 2010

would cost ...

Sources: Britain’s Office for National Statistics, Bank of England

14 years under Tory rule

Five prime ministers:

$2

General elections:

May 11, 2010

July 13, 2016

July 24, 2019

July 4, 2024

$1.5

$1

’08

’09

’10

’11

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

’17

’18

’19

’21

’22

’23

’24

’20

Scottish

independence

referendum

Cost of living

British Consumer Price Index

including owner occupiers’

housing costs

8%

4

’08

’09

’10

’11

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

’17

’18

’19

’21

’22

’23

’24

’20

In 2014

In 2016

In 2020

In May 2024

What goods and services

costing £100 in 2010

would cost ...

£111.78

£112.57

£121.60

£149.76

Sources: Britain’s Office for National Statistics, Bank of England

14 years under Tory rule

Five prime ministers:

$2

General elections:

May 11, 2010

July 13, 2016

July 24, 2019

Sept. 6 - Oct. 25, 2022

July 4, 2024

$1.5

$1

’08

’09

’10

’11

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

’17

’18

’19

’20

’21

’22

’23

’24

Scottish

independence

referendum

Cost of living

British Consumer Price Index,

including owner occupiers’ housing costs

8%

4

’08

’09

’10

’11

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

’17

’18

’19

’20

’21

’22

’23

’24

In 2014

In 2016

In 2020

In May 2024

What goods and services

costing £100 in 2010

would cost ...

£111.78

£112.57

£121.60

£149.76

Sources: Britain’s Office for National Statistics, Bank of England

At the least, it’s been chaotic. Britain had five prime ministers in 14 years, including one who lasted just 49 days — the briefest tenure of a British government in hundreds of years. The country cycled through nine foreign secretaries and eight home secretaries.

There were four national elections, a vote on Scottish independence that failed and a vote on leaving the European Union that did not — yielding Britain’s exit from the bloc.

But Brexit, approved by voters in 2016 and completed in 2020, was just one seismic shift. The Conservatives took the reins in the aftermath of a global financial crisis, watched as a pandemic hit Britain harder than many of its peers, and responded to a major land war on continental Europe.

On top of all that? The queen died.

The fallout from those 14 years was a focal point of Labour’s campaign. Party leader Keir Starmer, Britain’s new prime minister, has pushed for change. But how much of the challenge confronting Britain is the result of bad policies, and how much of it was unavoidable?

Is Britain in a worse

state than in 2010?

Thinking about the condition of Britain, do you think things are currently better, worse, or about the same as they were when the Conservatives first came to power in 2010?

All Britons

1

Much better

Somewhat better

7

About the same

11

27

Somewhat worse

Much worse

46%

Voted Conservative in 2019

1

Much better

15

Somewhat better

20

About the same

36%

Somewhat worse

23

Much worse

Intend to vote Conservative

Much better

3

Somewhat better

28

About the same

32%

Somewhat worse

29

Much worse

4

Source: YouGov

Is Britain in a worse state

than in 2010?

Thinking about the condition of Britain, do you think things are currently better, worse, or about the same as they were when the Conservatives first came to power in 2010?

All Britons

1

Much better

Somewhat better

7

About the same

11

27

Somewhat worse

Much worse

46%

Voted Conservative in 2019

1

Much better

15

Somewhat better

20

About the same

36%

Somewhat worse

23

Much worse

Intend to vote Conservative

Much better

3

Somewhat better

28

About the same

32%

Somewhat worse

29

Much worse

4

Source: YouGov

Is Britain in a worse state than in 2010?

Thinking about the condition of Britain, do you think things are currently better, worse, or about the same as they were when the Conservatives first came to power in 2010?

Voted Conservative

in 2019

Intend to vote

Conservative

1

1

3

Much better

Somewhat better

7

15

28

About the same

11

20

32%

27

36%

29

Somewhat worse

Much worse

23

4

46%

Source: YouGov

Is Britain in a worse state than in 2010??

Thinking about the condition of Britain, do you think things are currently better, worse, or about the same as they were when the Conservatives first came to power in 2010?

Voted Conservative

in 2019

Intend to vote

Conservative

Much better

1

1

3

Somewhat better

7

15

28

About the same

11

20

32%

Somewhat worse

27

36%

29

Much worse

23

4

46%

Source: YouGov

It’s funny, but nobody in Britain really wants to talk about Brexit anymore — except Nigel Farage.

In what many now consider a colossal political miscalculation, David Cameron kept Farage and his U.K. Independence Party in the Conservative fold for the 2015 general election by promising a Brexit referendum. His bet was that British voters would want to remain in the European Union. They did not. Within hours of the vote, Cameron announced his resignation. Theresa May’s premiership was consumed by Brexit chaos. Boris Johnson was a Brexit booster. So is Rishi Sunak.

The people generally consider Brexit a flop. But there’s no going back — not quickly.

Brexit: Benefits vs. negatives

15%

The benefits

of Brexit have

outweighed

the negatives

53%

The negatives

of Brexit have

outweighed

the benefits

The benefits

and negatives

have balanced

each other out

11%

Don’t know

21%

Source: YouGov

Brexit: Benefits vs. negatives

15%

The benefits

of Brexit have

outweighed

the negatives

53%

The negatives

of Brexit have

outweighed

the benefits

The benefits

and negatives

have balanced

each other out

11%

Don’t know

21%

Source: YouGov

Brexit: Benefits vs. negatives

The negatives

of Brexit have

outweighed

the benefits

The benefits

of Brexit have

outweighed

the negatives

The benefits

and negatives

have balanced

each other out

15%

53%

11%

21%

Source: YouGov

Brexit: Benefits vs. negatives

The negatives

of Brexit have

outweighed

the benefits

The benefits

of Brexit have

outweighed

the negatives

The benefits

and negatives

have balanced

each other out

15%

53%

11%

21%

Source: YouGov

The “Leave” vote was driven in part by fear of immigration. Exiting the E.U. was supposed to give Britain greater control of its borders. In reality, net immigration has soared.

Cameron and May vowed to cap net migration in the “tens of thousands.” Johnson promised the numbers would come down. Sunak said he would “stop the boats” that were illegally crossing the English Channel and send asylum seekers to Rwanda. No flights have left.

Annual net migration has more than doubled since the start of Conservative Party rule. The nationalities have changed. Before Brexit, most long-term migrants came from member states of the European Union. Now, the majority of immigrants come from outside the bloc. The top sources last year were India, Nigeria, China, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

Long-term international

migration to Britain

Non-E.U.

1,031,000

1M

E.U.

327,000

E.U.

126,000

Non-E.U.

238,000

Dec. 2012

Dec. 2020

Dec. 2023

Source: Britain’s Office for National Statistics

Long-term international

migration to Britain

Non-E.U.

1,031,000

1M

E.U.

327,000

E.U.

126,000

Non-E.U.

238,000

Dec. 2012

Dec. 2020

Dec. 2023

Source: Britain’s Office for National Statistics

Long-term international migration to Britain

Non-E.U.

1,031,000

1M

E.U.

327,000

E.U.

Non-E.U.

126,000

238,000

Dec. 2012

Dec. 2020

Dec. 2023

Source: Britain’s Office for National Statistics

Non-E.U.

Long-term international migration to Britain

1,031,000

1M

E.U.

327,000

E.U.

Non-E.U.

126,000

238,000

Dec. 2012

Dec. 2020

Dec. 2023

Source: Britain’s Office for National Statistics

What’s driving the surge? Policy decisions. The government wants more international students, who pay a premium to study at British universities, and workers to fill low-wage jobs in nursing homes and other fields.

Before Brexit, a different word hung over Conservative policy: “austerity.”

Cameron pushed spending cuts intended to reduce government debt and deficit. The goal was never achieved — public debt this year hit its highest rate as a percentage of economic output since the 1960s — but austerity had many side effects, including huge cuts to local governments that hit services such as schools and swimming pools.

Britain’s beloved National Health Service was one of the few places to see funding rise in real terms during this period, but it mostly failed to match pre-2010 trends, let alone keep up with spiking inflation, immigration and the needs of an aging population. Under the Conservatives, waiting times for treatment have surged.

7.8 million

in Sept. 2023

Waiting list for

hospital treatment

4M

’08

’12

’16

’20

’24

Source: Britain’s Office for National Statistics

Life expectancy at birth

2020

2008

85

Japan

Italy

France

Canada

Germany

Britain

80

77

U.S.

2020

2008

Source: Organization for Economic

Cooperation and Development

7.8 million

in Sept. 2023

Waiting list for

hospital treatment

4M

’08

’12

’16

’20

’24

Source: Britain’s Office for National Statistics

Life expectancy at birth

2020

2008

85

Japan

Italy

France

Canada

Germany

Britain

80

77

U.S.

2020

2008

Source: Organization for Economic

Cooperation and Development

7.8 million

in Sept. 2023

8M

Waiting list for hospital treatment

4M

4M

2008

2010

2012

2014

2016

2018

2020

2022

2024

Source: Britain’s Office for National Statistics

Life expectancy at birth

Japan

Italy

France

Canada

Germany

Britain

U.S.

85

80

75

’08

’20

Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

7.8 million

in Sept. 2023

8M

Waiting list for hospital treatment

4M

4M

2008

2010

2012

2014

2016

2018

2020

2022

2024

Source: Britain’s Office for National Statistics

Life expectancy at birth

Japan

Italy

France

Canada

Germany

Britain

U.S.

85

80

75

2008

2020

Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

Britain’s high death rate during the coronavirus pandemic — 20th in the world, according to data from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine — has been widely attributed to a troubled public health system.

Life expectancy at birth, a key indicator of a country’s health, has stagnated in Britain since 2010, leaving the country sixth in the Group of Seven highly developed nations, ahead of only the United States, long an outlier in health outcomes.

Researchers at the London School of Economics have blamed austerity. They argue that funding constraints not only on the NHS but also welfare and other public services have cost the British nearly half a year of life expectancy.

Britain remains one of the world’s largest economies, but its rate of growth has fallen well off its pre-2010 trajectory.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research lays much of the blame on Brexit. By last year, the institute concluded, the departure from the E.U. had already cost the country up to 3 percent of its real gross domestic product, or roughly $1,000 per person.

But a scratch beneath the surface reveals conditions that are still more troubling. Growth in GDP — the country’s total economic output — has been propelled largely by a population boost caused by immigration and demographic shifts.

Growth in productivity, measured by economic output per hour worked across the country, has lagged, placing Britain far lower than many of its peers. The slowdown began around Cameron’s election 14 years ago.

The Conservative win in 2010 took place just after the global financial crisis shook Britain and many other nations. Some analysts say events for which the government can be blamed, such as Brexit, can’t be disentangled from those for which it cannot, including the financial crisis, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

But whatever the cause, the impacts are real. Wages have remained roughly in line with productivity, resulting in what has been described as the longest period of stagnation in British pay for centuries.

The Conservatives, known in Britain as the Tories, can claim some successes, including keeping educational achievement at a high international standard and taking a leading role in supporting Ukraine against Russian invaders. But if there’s a green shoot to the Tory years, it’s that Britain asserted itself as a world leader in the fight against climate change.

Under May, Britain pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2050. Johnson backed a “green industrial revolution.” But Sunak tapped the brakes. He delayed by five years a ban on the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars, for example, saying Britain must reduce emissions in a “pragmatic, proportionate and realistic way.”

Meanwhile, the use of green energy has exploded. In 2023, renewables — notably, wind, solar, biomass and hydro power — generated 47 percent of the country’s electricity.

It’s an outcome that belies the political chaos of the period — in 14 years, Britain had 10 environment secretaries.

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