Spending cuts – the fightback begins

Can this week’s violent protests in Westminster simply be dismissed as the hijacking of an orderly demonstration by a ‘small minory’ of anarchists. Or are they a sign of things to come for an ‘out-of-touch’ government with 18 millionaires in its cabinet?
On and on it went: aerial shots of the heaving crowd, rolling commentary, bursts of stuff shot on mobile phones, and the usual parade of talking heads. While what the BBC was calling a “mini-riot” happened both inside and outside the Millbank tower, the people in charge of its news channel were presumably ecstatic: this kind of stuff, after all, is what rolling news was invented for.
Over there: a fire! Suddenly, on the roof: more protesters! On the phones: frantic office workers, taken aback by the disruption of their day! And in the midst of it all: that delicate and ever-shifting line of police, anxiously trying to do whatever they could, knowing full well that the people they were up against had already – if you’ll excuse the pun – stolen a march on them.

Meanwhile, the president of the National Union of Students did the media rounds. Aaron Porter is 25; he stood for the office as an independent, but is a member of the Labour party, whose dress code – the Nick Robinson-esque glasses are a good example – rather suggests that he’s destined for a career in mainstream politics. Certainly, if you fancy being a high-ranking Labour MP, clambering to the top of the NUS isn’t a bad move at all. His predecessors have included Jack Straw, Charles Clarke, the current shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy, and Phil Woolas, the MP last week suspended from office for making misleading claims in the course of the last election campaign – all of which highlights the fact that NUS presidents are not exactly renowned for being what the French call enragés.

And so it proved. “Let me be clear,” he told yet another camera. “I absolutely condemn the actions of a small minority who have used violent means to hijack the protest . . . if some people think it’s appropriate to use violence, it’s a total disgrace, and they have completely hijacked this opportunity to make a serious point.” In his own way, he was endorsing the view that was subsequently splashed over the front page of yesterday’s Daily Mail: “Anarchists spark violence as 50,000 take to streets over student fees – HIJACKING OF A VERY MIDDLE CLASS PROTEST”.

On the BBC, there was a particularly priceless moment. When Porter once again talked about “hijacking”, the coverage cut to the mass of people outside Tory HQ, the presenter made the point that this was not what “a small minority” would look like – and Porter seemed momentarily lost for words. You had only to look at the crowd to know that the vast majority of them were not anarchists, but reasonably regular twentysomethings. As if to illustrate the point, when one of the people on the roof made the stupid decision to hurl down a fire extinguisher”>stupid decision to hurl down a fire extinguisher, they were met with an outraged chant of “Don’t throw shit! Don’t throw shit!”

Long after the fires had burned out, and the riot police had belatedly arrived, I spoke to a Guardian colleague who had spent most of Wednesday at the scene. Talk of cynical provocateurs, he said, was “nonsense”: the crowd was made up of “ordinary students who were viscerally angry”, but also mindful of what was ill-advised, or plain daft. When one of their number had prised up a cobblestone and moved to lob it at the police, he had been roundly told to “stop being an idiot”; moreover, the attempted occupation of Millbank had seemingly started on a whim, when a handful of people had walked into the foyer, not quite believing they had been allowed to do so, and decided to stay put. He was also unimpressed by talk of an assembly of self-indulgent, bourgeois moaners: time and again, he said, he had bumped into people from such northern towns as Bradford and Wakefield, who were students at FE colleges, angered to the point of fury by the government’s axing of the educational maintenance allowance – the means-tested benefit that has enabled so many people to take up post-16 education without being a drain on the family budget.

His basic point – and mine – is simple enough. What happened on Wednesday afternoon was not some meaningless rent-a-mob flare-up, nor an easily-ignored howl of indignation from some of society’s more privileged citizens. It was an early sign of people growing anxious and restless, and what a government pledged to such drastic plans should increasingly expect.

If you hadn’t noticed already, these are strange, tumultuous times. We are still in the midst of the uneasy period of phoney war before the cuts actually bite, but we now know what’s coming: the deepest and quickest reductions in public spending since the 1920s – which, according to an under-reported quote from David Cameron, will not be reversed, even when our economic circumstances improve (2 August, at an event in Birmingham: “Should we cut things now and go back later and try and restore them later? I think we should be trying to avoid that approach”).

The welfare state is in for an unprecedented reinvention, as ministers get dangerously close to reviving the nasty old trope of the undeserving poor; yesterday, as if to try to neutralise recent fretful noises from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Iain Duncan Smith talked about supposedly self-imposed worklessness as a “sin”. Changes to housing benefit look likely to drastically change the social makeup of our cities, and London in particular; even Boris Johnson has talked about the danger of “social cleansing”.

Meanwhile, just about every area of our lives will soon feel the pinch: travel anywhere in the country, pick up the local paper, and it’s all there – the imminent hacking back of youth centres, social care, school buildings, libraries, parks . . . you name it. Everyone will be affected: as ever, the most vulnerable will take the biggest hit, though it is no accident that the idea of the “squeezed middle” is being talked about as never before.

Of late, my mind has returned time and again to a celebrated article from 1999 by the Oxford academic Ross McKibbin, and one passage in particular: “The middle classes make more use of the NHS, public transport, public libraries, local swimming pools, public parks and their right to state welfare than anyone else.”

Underneath the coalition’s plans, there is an obvious enough agenda: not just the brutal cutting of public spending, but a decisive rolling-out of the market-obsessed, “choice”-fixated ideas that took root while Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, were revived and retooled once Tony Blair decided he had to define himself against the Labour party – and now look set to be taken to their logical conclusion by the Tories, and the like-minded Lib Dems who took their party into the coalition. Here lies another reason why Wednesday’s events were so significant – for within the government’s plans for higher education lie not just the hiking-up of fees, but an entire reinvention of the very ethos of our universities, whereby the idea of education as a public good takes yet another kicking, and everything comes down to “choice”, and whatever is meant to be good for business.

A recent issue of the London Review of Books featured an inspired demolition of the Browne review, the report into higher education by the former chief executive of BP that was hailed by the government as setting its “strategic direction”, and thereby opened the way for the lifting of the cap on fees, and much more besides. The LRB piece was written by a Cambridge don named Stefan Collini, and it quickly got to the heart of the problem: “Overwhelmingly, the general statements announce, with startling confidence, the real point of higher education: ‘Higher education matters because it drives innovation and economic transformation. Higher education helps to produce economic growth, which in turn contributes to national prosperity.’ . . . This report displays no real interest in universities as places of education; they are conceived of simply as engines of economic prosperity and as agencies for equipping future employees to earn higher salaries.”

Meanwhile, where are the public? When it comes to tuition fees, do not believe the voices who tell us that the average Briton thinks students are a pampered lot who should get with the government’s plans and count themselves lucky. A recent YouGov survey commissioned by the Sun found that the public opposed the Browne proposals by 45% to 37%; an ICM poll from around the same time offered the choice between raised fees and the far fairer option of a graduate tax, and found that people favoured the latter over the former by 61% to 29%.

More generally, presumably to the delight of the government, a cliche has long since oozed into the reporting of what they are up to: that people accept the need for drastic austerity, and are meekly preparing for the necessary dose of fiscal medicine. Browse the requisite opinion polls, and you could be forgiven for assuming the worst: late last month, for example, Ipsos Mori found that 59% of people agreed that there was “a need to cut public spending on public services” – the kind of statistic cited almost daily by those newspapers who habitually encourage the government to go further, and faster.

In fact, things aren’t as simple as that. According to the same poll, the share of people who think the government has made either the right or wrong calls on public spending is evenly split: 41% and 38% respectively, while one in five simply don’t know; 40% of people disagree with the idea that the coalition’s approach will improve the state of the economy; while 49% reject the idea that, as the coalition insists, public services will somehow improve in the long run; 47% oppose cutting back the number of people who work in the public sector. Public opinion, it seems, is as contorted and contradictory as ever – and for the government, there is much less comfort than you might imagine.

While the coalition comes over all Churchillian, endlessly talking about the “national interest” and the spurious idea that we are “all in this together”, there is also a low hubbub of noise about their shortage of a mandate. On Wednesday, the ire of the marchers was focused on all those Lib Dems who blithely signed the NUS’s anti-fees pledge (“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative” – yesterday, Nick Clegg limply said that he “should have been more careful” than to put his name to it). But there are also serious questions about the Tories – not just that they are pushing what Cameron recently called a “revolution” with the support of around one in five of the electorate, but also when it comes to the pronouncements they made during the election campaign.

Consider, for example, a now-infamous quote from the PM, issued on the Andrew Marr show on 2 May: “What I can tell you is any cabinet minister, if I win the election, who comes to me and says: ‘Here are my plans’ and they involve frontline reductions – they’ll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again.” And really: they wonder why some people are increasingly angry.

And so to the wider context, and things that most of the media very rarely mentions. Political debate in Britain is endlessly distorted by the way that London so dominates the national conversation, and assumptions that run wide and deep in some of Britain’s more desirable postcodes are assumed to blur into the national mood. In Islington, Notting Hill, and the more upmarket corners of the home counties, austerity will doubtless be taken in a lot of people’s stride: if you have opted out of large swaths of the public sector and earn a six-figure salary, the prospect of the cuts will inevitably cause you relatively little worry. Self-evidently, this will not be the case in Bolton, Merthyr Tydfil, or Hastings; but neither will it hold true in Basildon, Crawley, or Harrogate.

At the top of government, what might be called the “experience gap” grows even wider. There are at least 18 millionaires in the cabinet: Cameron is said to be worth around £3.4m; Nick Clegg’s wealth is put at a mere £1.8m. Of late, even commentators on the right have been talking about the distance between some ministers and the people at the sharp end of their policies, not least when it comes to the middle class. Last month, for example, the Daily Telegraph’s Peter Oborne bemoaned their “devastating” fate, in a piece worth quoting at reasonable length, if only to prove that the idea of an out-of-touch elite blithely wreaking havoc is not the preserve of hard-bitten lefties.

Among Oborne’s most telling passages was this one: “Doubtless both David Cameron and George Osborne think of themselves, quite genuinely, as middle class. Indeed, a few weeks ago, David Cameron referred to himself as a member of the “sharp-elbowed middle class”, and the political intention of this remark was clear: he was claiming associate membership of the club of hard-working people who pay their taxes, do their best to rear their children and find it desperately hard to make ends meet. Few would challenge the Camerons’ fundamental decency. But the middle-class people David and Samantha Cameron know socially tend to be on quarter of a million a year and upwards. Life for them may indeed be tough, but only in the sense of whether they can afford a skiing holiday or a spring break in the Caribbean.”

In last week’s news that Cameron had put his personal photographer on the public payroll, there was a slight touch of the Marie Antoinettes, and a tension that may yet cause the government no end of trouble. It boils down to this: if you are secure in such an exclusive social bracket, it will inevitably distort your view of things. Around £27,000 for a university degree may well seem like the acme of both affordability and common sense; lost child benefit may seem like money dropped down the back of the couch; people on welfare will inevitably look like the residents of a completely different planet.

Meanwhile, some longstanding assumptions seem to be changing at speed. Wednesday gave the lie to the idea that our young people are thoroughly post-ideological creatures, with no fight in them; if even the most fusty newspapers are worried about the chasm that separates the government from the so-called squeezed middle, you can bet that the politics of class may yet make an unexpected comeback.

Oh, and one other thing. Though few people seemed to notice, on 3 November, a Treasury minister named Lord Sassoon served notice that the coalition’s work on City bonuses was done: “The government has taken action to tackle unacceptable bonuses in the banking sector,” he said, and that seemed to be that. Six days later, Barclays announced that its latest bonus pot would total £1.6bn – which is about a third of what the government currently spends each year on university teaching. The annual season of big executive payouts is about to commence once again; at this rate, do not be surprised if the seditious spirit of Millbank spreads – and fast.
John Harris, The Guardian, Friday 12 November 2010


Osborne’s fiscal policies risks stalling recovery

The new Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, received a letter from the Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King today, explaining the latest rise in inflation. Official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show consumer price inflation increased to 3.7 per cent in April, while retail price inflation rose to 5.3 per cent, its highest rate since July 1991. Consumer price inflation has now been 1 percentage point or more above its target rate of 2 per cent for four consecutive months.


The Governor was able to point to some special factors that have boosted inflation in the UK, including the increase in the standard rate of VAT from 15 per cent to 17.5 per cent in January, record petrol prices and the lingering effects of sterling’s 25 per cent depreciation in 2007-08 (though the last should have just about worked through the system by now).

He also reiterated the Bank’s view, expressed in last week’s Inflation Report, that inflation will fall sharply in the second half of the year. But it is an uncomfortable fact that prices in the UK have been increasing far more rapidly than the Bank, or indeed most other forecasters, expected.

This is important for three reasons.

First, the Chancellor’s plans to make savings of £6 billion in public spending in the current financial year are predicated on the assumption that monetary policy can remain extremely loose well into 2011. If the Monetary Policy Committee thinks inflation expectations are increasing, as a result of high recorded inflation, they may have to rethink the timing of the first moves to reduce quantitative easing or increase interest rates.

If so, the economy could face a simultaneous monetary and fiscal policy squeeze at a time when the recovery remains very fragile.

Second, wage inflation is very low, so high price inflation means real wages are contracting. Unless households are prepared to save less or borrow more – and the Conservatives believe that the opposite is desirable – consumer spending will grow very little, and could contract, in coming quarters.

As a consequence, the economic recovery could fail to pick up momentum and may be at risk of stalling.

Third, Mr Osborne may be contemplating an increase in VAT and/or in other indirect taxes in his ‘emergency Budget’ on June 22. To do so while inflation is already at uncomfortably high levels would be to increase the risk of weaker growth in the short-term and of higher inflation expectations in the medium-term.

Not a good first move as Chancellor.

It is, perhaps, natural for a new Government to want to be seen to be putting its own stamp on economic policy as soon as possible – but the economic situation in the UK is very delicate and argues for extreme caution in coming months; the less that is in the emergency Budget, the better.

Left Foot Forward

Who Knows Who: the coalition cabinet

By Anna Doble, Channel 4 News
They are not all Oxford chums, millionaires and the Notting Hill set, but quite a large slice are. Who Knows Who examines the old rivals and new faces in the Con-Lib cabinet.

The oldest is 69 (Ken Clarke), the youngest is about to turn 38 (Danny Alexander), 43 is the magic number. Two are former presidents of the Oxford Union (William Hague, Michael Gove) and two edited the Oxford student magazine (George Osborne and Chris Huhne). Only four are female, a fair few are millionaires and of course five cabinet members are Liberal Democrats.

Does ‘new politics’ mean more Oxbridge males?

Who Knows Who takes a look at the connections in the coalition Cabinet.

Prime Minister – David Cameron (Con)
Age: 43
School: Eton (independent)
University: Oxford

Cameron’s education and aristocratic background are by now well-known. The son of a stockbroker, he is a descendant of William IV, a former classmate of Prince Edward, an old Etonian (the 19th at Number 10) and, along with George Osborne and London mayor Boris Johnson, an ex-Buller boy (an Oxford club famed for drinking binges and vandalism).

Cameron is a former special adviser to Norman Lamont who was succeeded as chancellor by the man picked by the PM as new Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke. Cameron’s closest ally until now has been Osborne, the new chancellor, who is a personal friend and godfather of his children. His coupling with Nick Clegg could test this.

Deputy Prime Minister – Nick Clegg (Lib)

Age: 43
School: Westminster (independent)
University: Cambridge

Clegg’s background all but twins him with Cameron. Swap Eton for Westminster, Oxford for Cambridge and a father who was a stockbroker for one that was a banker and the pairing seems natural. Clegg is reported to have joined the Conservative club at Cambridge in 1986 but has said he “can’t remember” doing so.

The Lib Dem leader worked for a former Tory home secretary Leon Brittan at the European Commission in the late nineties. His wife Miriam is a former colleague and friend of Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn. Clegg beat new Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne to the Lib Dem leadership in 2007.

Foreign Secretary – William Hague (Con)

Age: 49
School: Ripon Grammar, Wath Comprehenisve
University: Oxford

One of two former presidents of the Oxford union here (the other is Education Secretary Michael Gove) Hague became an MP in 1989, succeeding Nick Clegg’s old boss Leon Brittan to win the seat of Richmond in North Yorkshire.

Hague beat off competition from Cabinet colleague Ken Clarke to lead the Tory party from 1997 until 2001. He was followed by another unsuccessful Tory leader, the new Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

Chancellor of the Exchequer – George Osborne (Con)
Age: 38
School: St Paul’s (independent)
University: Oxford

George Osborne, Cameron’s close friend, is the youngest chancellor for 124 years. Like the prime minister, he was a member of Oxford’s Bullingdon club and the Tory “Notting Hill set” of the late nineties and early 2000s. He is a multi-millionaire through his family wallpaper firm.

He has an interesting link with new Lib Dem colleague Chris Huhne. Bothe are former editors of Oxford student magazine, Isis. Both Osborne and Cameron were junior advisers to John Major, the last Conservative PM. Osborne also worked as a speech writer for new Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Lord chancellor, Justice Secretary – Ken Clarke (Con)

Age: 69
School: Nottingham High School (independent)
University: Cambridge

Clarke, the oldest Cabinet member, is regarded as a political “big beast”. Cameron is the fourth Conservative prime minister he has served under after high-profile stints with Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

He may find some closer ties with his pro-Europe Lib Dem colleagues than with his old adversary Iain Duncan Smith, the Eurosceptic who pipped him to the Tory leadership in 2001. Along with Vince Cable, Clarke, a former chancellor, will be a reassuring presence to those who fear Osborne lacks Treasury clout.

Home Secretary, Minister for Women and Equality – Theresa May (Con)

Age: 53
School: Holton Park Girls’ Grammar School (now Wheatley Comprehensive)
University: Oxford

A former consultant at the Bank of England, May became an MP at the 1997 general election. She rose to prominence quickly and has always done well in Tory job hand-outs.

She has served two former Tory leaders who now sit beside her in the new cabinet – William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith. When Cameron became leader, he made her shadow leader of the Commons. As Home Secretary, she is now the most high-profile woman in government.

Defence Secretary – Liam Fox (Con)

Age: 48
School: St Bride’s High School (comprehensive)
University: Glasgow

Liam Fox is one of the few members of the new cabinet who was not privately educated and did not attend Oxford or Cambridge. He grew up in a council house in East Kilbride.

Fox became an MP in 1992 and later worked for both Hague and Duncan Smith as shadow health secretary. Fox is UK director of The Atlantic Bridge, a transatlantic committee set up to promote the UK’s “special relationship” with the US. William Hague, George Osborne and Michael Gove sit on its advisory panel.

Business Secretary – Vince Cable (Lib)

Age: 67
School: Nunthorpe Grammar (now Millthorpe School, comprehensive)
University: Cambridge

Cable, a former Labour councillor who worked for the late John Smith, must now work in tandem with chancellor George Osborne. It is clear that, of the top Lib Dems, he is the most uneasy about the Con-Lib union.

However, his mother was a Tory voter and his experience working as chief economist at both Shell and Chatham House add considerable financial experience to the team. He is the second oldest cabinet member after Ken Clarke.

Work and Pensions Secretary – Iain Duncan Smith (Con)

Age: 56
School: HMS Conway, naval training school
University: Sandhurst Military Academy

Duncan-Smith, a former Tory leader, is the only member of cabinet who did not go to university. The son of a Royal Air Force captain, he instead attended the Sandhurst military academy a few years after Prince Charles.

He is an old rival to Ken Clarke (they have fought against each other for the Tory leadership and disagree on Europe) but his place in the cabinet should appease rightwingers who are sceptical about the Lib Dem presence.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary – Chris Huhne (Lib)

Age: 55
School: Westminster, the Sorbonne
University: Oxford

Huhne, before Clegg, attended Westminster School. He is one of nine Oxford alumni in the coalition cabinet. Like George Osborne he was a Demy scholar who edited the student magazine Isis.

He lost the Lib Dem leadership battle in 2007. A former Labour activist, it is interesting to ponder whether the coalition would have come about with him at the helm. Huhne was, however, on the negotiation team which agreed the deal with fellow Magdalen graduate William Hague.

Health Secretary – Andrew Lansley (Con)

Age: 53
School: Brentwood
University: Exeter (independent)

The new health secretary is one of the few non-Oxbridge members of the new set-up. Instead he attended Exeter. The former civil servant worked as private secretary to Thatcher minister Norman Tebbit in the 1980s. Interestingly, Tebbit called for Cameron to burst the “Clegg bubble” during the election campaign and warned against the coalition deal.

A Lansley-run campaign helped John Major retain power at the 1992 election. He later worked for Iain Duncan Smith on the failed 2001 Tory bid for power.

Education Secretary – Michael Gove (Con)

Age: 42
School: Robert Gordon’s College (independent)
University: Oxford

Gove, like Hague, is a former president of the Oxford Union and like Osborne and Huhne has worked as a journalist. He has written for The Times and The Spectator and authored a biography of Michael Portillo, an old rival to William Hague. Gove also worked for BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

The new education secretary is regarded as one of the “new breed” of Tories, alongside Cameron and Osborne. They are the same age and graduated together before forming the so-called “Notting Hill set”. Gove is a former chairman of rightwing think tank Police Exchange.

Communities and Local Government Secretary – Eric Pickles (Con)

Age: 58
School: Greenhead Grammar (now high school, comprehensive)
University: Leeds Polytechnic (now Leeds Met)

Pickles is the Prescott to Cameron’s Tony Blair. Proudly working class, one of his great-grandfathers helped found the Independent Labour Party, but Pickles switched to the Tories in 1968.

The new Communities and Local Government Secretary is opposed to electoral reform, which will not endear him to his new Lib Dem colleagues. Meanwhile, in 2006 he took action to ensure a fish and chip shop in his constituency removed an “Eric Pickled Egg” from its menu.

Transport Secretary – Philip Hammond (Con)

Age: 54
School: Shenfield School (comprehensive)
University: Oxford

Another Oxonian, Hammond was a successful businessman prior to entering parliament in 1997. He was promoted to the Tory frontbench by new Cabinet colleague William Hague.

Hammond is said to have amassed a wealth of £9m. He has previously worked as a consultant to the World Bank.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – Caroline Spelman (Con)

Age: 58
School: Herts & Essex High School (comprehensive)
University: Queen Mary

Caroline Spelman is a cabinet rarity. She is female, state school educated and a graduate of neither Oxford nor Cambridge.

A former commodity secretary at the National Farmer’s Union, she became an MP in 1997 and was quickly promoted by Iain Duncan Smith. She has previously worked for new home secretary Theresa May on environment issues. She is married to Mark Spelman, a senior partner at Accenture.

International Development – Andrew Mitchell (Con)

Age: 54
School: Rugby School (independent, boarding)
University: Cambridge

Mitchell is former president of the Cambridge Union and chair of the university’s Conservative club. He served in John Major’s government as a junior minister.

He is one of several cabinet millionaires, with an estimated fortune of £2m.

Northern Ireland – Owen Paterson (Con)

Age: 53
School: Radley College (independent)
University: Cambridge

Paterson embarked on a career in the leather business after graduating from Cambridge. He is an outspoken Eurosceptic which will align him with Iain Duncan Smith against the Lib Dems.

Paterson was first elected in 1997 and has been shadow secretary for Northern Ireland since 2007.

Scotland Secretary – Danny Alexander (Lib)

Age: 37
School: Lochaber High School (comprehensive)
University: Oxford

Alexander is the youngest cabinet member and, along with Clegg, the unexpected star of election 2010. After leaving Oxford, he worked as a press officer, first for the Scottish Lib Dems and later for a pro-Europe pressure group.

He will already be friendly with Cabinet colleague Ken Clarke, having worked with him at the Britain in Europe group. He also coordinated the Lib Dem 2010 manifesto.

Wales Secretary – Cheryl Gillan (Con)

Age: 58
School: Cheltenham Ladies’ College (independent)
University: The College of Law

Gillan is one of several cabinet members hailing from a military family (Iain Duncan Smith, Jeremy Hunt). Her father was an Army officer, her mother a Wren.

Gillan has served as the chairman of the right-wing Bow Group. She is another cabinet millionaire with a wealth of £1m. In 2009 it emerged she had claimed parliamentary expenses for dog food. Incidentally, she keeps chickens.

Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Secretary – Jeremy Hunt (Con)
Age: 43
School: Charterhouse School (independent)
University: Oxford

Hunt, whose father was a senior officer in the Royal Navy, was head boy at Charterhouse before going to Oxford where he gained a first in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE).

He comes from the Oxonian Tory set which includes fellow 43-year-olds David Cameron and Michael Gove. Hunt worked in public relations before entering parliament at the 2005 election.

Chief secretary to the Treasury – David Laws (Lib)

Age: 44
School: St George’s College (independent)
University: Cambridge

David Laws was a key figure on the Lib Dem negotiating team which brought about this coalition.

The former JP Morgan managing director took over Lord Ashdown‘s Yeovil seat in 2001 after a series of high-profile roles in finance. He co-edited the Orange Book, which sets out liberal economic solutions, and will work closely with George Osborne at the Treasury.

Duchy of Lancaster – Lord Strathclyde (Con)

Age: 50
School: Wellington College (independent)
University: UEA

Lord Strathclyde is something of a Westminster veteran, having first arrived in SW1 in 1985. He was government whip in Margaret Thatcher’s administration of the late 1980s.

A former insurance broker, he was a minister of state at the Department of Trade and Industry during the 1990s.

Minister without Portfolio – Baroness Warsi (Con)

Age: 39
School: Birkdale High School (comprehensive)
University: Leeds

Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim woman to serve in a British cabinet, is one of David Cameron’s “stars” and one of three still in their thirties (along with Osborne and Alexander).

Warsi gave up her job as a solicitor in 2004 to stand for Parliament in her home town of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, but lost out to Labour’s Shahid Malik. She has previously worked as a special adviser to Michael Howard.

Also attending cabinet:

Minister for the Cabinet Office, Paymaster General – Francis Maude

Minister of State, Cabinet Office – Oliver Letwin

Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – David Willetts

Leader of the Commons – Sir George Young

Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, Chief Whip – Patrick McLoughlin

Attorney General – Dominic Grieve

Is the economy greener?

The environment has been David Cameron’s clearest break with the Conservative Party of the past. Labour has set ambitious carbon reduction targets but the lack of any meaningful international agreement at the Copenhagen summit has left the Government’s green credentials exposed. The Tories have scored points with environmentalists by opposing Heathrow expansion and supporting high speed rail but lasting green credibility requires more than symbolic policy shifts: it must see Britain fundamentally reshaping its economy to reduce emissions.
The Test:
In an effort to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees, the UK has set a target of cutting CO2 emissions by 34 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020. By the end of the next parliament, a progressive government would need to be well on its way to meeting this – and have reduced them by at least 20 per cent by the end of the Parliament.