The Conservative-led Coalition government in Britain is strongly committed to a programme of austerity. In the short term, this is a programme which makes more difficult the country’s exit from a period of recession and slow growth; in the longer term, it threatens cuts and privatisation which call into question the welfare state. Yet, politically, the Coalition has managed the post-2008 crisis more effectively than other European governments. Focusing on education, where the government’s right-wing radicalism is strongly evident, this article explores possible reasons for its political success. It looks particularly at the Coalition’s policies for teachers, and for the extension of private influence over schooling, as well as at the way it justifies its policies with reference to a reconceptualisation of ‘equal opportunity’. It suggests that these are the culmination of more than 40 years of discursive elaboration and programme-building, which have weakened opposition to a point which makes the immediate costs of policy implementation quite low. It suggests, however, that the Conservative achievement is an unstable one, more likely to sharpen long-term political and social tensions than to resolve them.