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Austerity Bites

Fiscal Lessons from the British General Election

Members of the public walk past the Bank of England in central London, June 3, 2008. Alessia Pierdomenico / Reuters

This May’s general election wins for British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Party confounded opinion pollsters and surely surprised Cameron himself. Despite presiding over five years of budgetary austerity and welfare cuts, a drop in wages by over eight percent from their 2007 peakzero growth in national productivity (which reflects the growth of part-time low-skill employment since the crisis), and missed budgetary targets, the electorate punished not Conservatives but rather their junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, who lost all but eight of their 57 seats in the House of Commons. The Labour Party’s failure to improve significantly on its weak 2010 performance, paired with the quirks of the United Kingdom’s first-past-the-post electoral system, did the rest of the work needed to secure a Conservative victory.

Commentators on the right have been quick to interpret this result as a triumph for austerity politics and fiscal rigor over

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