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  • Cited by 4
  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: April 2015

9 - The coalition and society (I): Home affairs and local government


The coalition partners brought different approaches to their recent policies on home affairs and local government. The Conservatives, particularly during the Thatcher years, had taken steps to centralize control within British government, albeit from a relatively centralized starting point in 1979. In some ways Mrs Thatcher was maintaining the approach of earlier post-war Tory governments, which had been happy to consolidate the development of a nationally directed welfare state brought together by Labour between 1945 and 1951. The autonomy and discretion of local government in Britain had been in decline since the late 1930s.

The Liberal Democrats and their predecessor parties, having been in opposition continuously since 1945, had evolved a relatively decentralist position as compared with the Conservatives and Labour. By the 2000s the party was strongly in favour of regional devolution, stronger local democracy and, indeed, a local income tax with locally-determined rates. The commitment to the last policy in particular put the Lib Dems in a very different position from the other major parties, who were wedded to the council tax which had been introduced by John Major after the fiasco of the poll tax.

Liberal Democrats had styled themselves as the party of civil liberties, opposing aspects of the Blair government's anti-terrorism laws. Being by far the most pro-European of the major parties, the Lib Dems had been strong supporters of the adoption of European human rights legislation. The Conservatives had been more naturally drawn to English ‘Bill of Rights’-style liberties. Traditionally the Tories supported a tough approach to law-and-order, while the Liberal Democrats were more likely to support policies such as penal reform and limits on the use of ‘stop and search’ powers. As a result of New Labour's willingness to implement tough criminal justice policy, the Liberal Democrats' ‘liberal’ positions on many aspects of home affairs were relatively isolated within national politics.