Why UK's economic recovery fails to lift Tory poll fortunes

Polling shows that being told the economy is improving is not enough - voters need to feel it

Column LAST UPDATED AT 11:15 ON Mon 2 Dec 2013
Don Brind

ARGUABLY the most famous one-liner in modern politics is 'It's the economy, stupid!' - the slogan that Bill Clinton's political strategist James Carville put above his desk during the 1992 US presidential campaign headquarters. In short,  nothing really matters to voters as much as their hopes of prosperity.

George Osborne will claim success for his economic policies when he makes his Autumn Statement on Thursday. To cheers from Tory MPs he will trumpet stronger than expected growth and he'll claim he has routed the doubters including the IMF, the OECD and the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.

But will Osborne be able to dispel the evident Tory bewilderment that economic recovery has failed to dent Labour's poll lead?

Currently that lead is averaging six per cent - YouGov in yesterday's Sunday Times had it higher, at eight per cent - enough to give Labour a Commons majority of 70-plus seats.

Tory worries were underlined by the Daily Telegraph's Ben Brogan in a recent article headlined 'The baffling recovery of Teflon Labour and Unpopular Ed'.

Brogan pondered: "How can it be that a party widely blamed for the nation's ills - let alone one led by a politician who commands so little public respect - is in a position to measure the curtains for Downing Street?

The answer is that Ed Miliband understands that there is a difference between voters being told by the Chancellor that the economy is reviving and actually being able to see for themselves that things are getting better.

As Miliband told a meeting in London last month, "We have a prime minister who thinks we can detach our national economic success from the success of Britain's families and businesses. He doesn't seem to realise that there is no such thing as a successful economy which doesn't carry Britain's families with it. And he obviously doesn't get that the old link between growth and living standards is just broken."

Miliband's argument is supported by the findings of a recent Populus poll which showed that even if the public thinks there is a recovery, only a small proportion - barely one in ten - feels part of it.

In the survey of more than 4,000 voters, 44 per cent said that either the economy or the cost of living would determine their vote in 2015. However, despite positive noises this autumn from the Treasury, the Bank of England and the Office of National Statistics, 38 per cent of respondents saw no signs of an economic recovery.

The same proportion thought there was a recovery - but more than two-thirds of those who acknowledged the upturn felt they were not benefitting. That left just 11 per cent of the overall sample believing they had gained from the recovery.

Little surprise therefore that Miliband is relentlessly plugging the need for action - at the centre of which is his headline-grabbing energy price freeze - to tackle the "cost of living crisis".

So what do the public at large consider to be good economic news? Populus found that 49 per cent said rising wages would make an economic recovery feel real for them and their family, ahead of falling unemployment (36 per cent) and falling inflation (24 per cent).

A YouGov tracker updated last week gives further weight to the view that whatever is happening at the macro-economic level, people are still worried about their own living standards.

Prompted to think about the next two to three years, respondents were asked, "How worried are you that people like you will not have enough money to live comfortably?" Twice as many (67 per cent) were worried as were not worried (29 per cent). Significantly the figures were almost precisely the same as when the question was asked 12 months ago.

By a similar margin, a majority were worried that they could suffer directly from cuts in public services such as health, education and welfare - 66 per cent to 29 per cent. Just over half (51 per cent) thought the coalition government was managing the economy badly compared to 40 per cent who thought they were doing well. Fifty-one per cent thought the state of the economy was "bad" to just 17 per cent who thought it was "good".

Osborne's mantra is that if Britain can hold its nerve, all will come right in the end - or at least in time for the 2015  election.

But Thursday's Autumn Statement is going to be damp squib if all he's offering is that same promise plus fifty quid off our energy bills.

What Osborne needs is a game-changer - something of the order of his 2007 Tory conference pledge when, in opposition, he pledged to raise the inheritance tax threshold. It put Gordon Brown into such a tailspin that having let the idea of a snap election gather momentum he suddenly ruled it out - and the rest is history. · 

Disqus - noscript

...its NOT the economy, stupid - its Cameron and his broken "pledges"!

Despite its history Labour is ahead and you are surprised? The answer is simple -- Cameron. You want a game-changer? The answer is simple -- David Davis (but do it quickly).

Correct, but also ignoring the massive opposition to redefining marriage and bulldozing it through Parliament, plus conservative MP's saying one thing
against the idea and then voting for it.

...Correct again Davos - and, belatedly and pathetically, Cameron expresses "huge regret" at pushing through gay marriage against all the opposition, despite all the disproportionate amount of Parliamentary time devoted to this widely unpopular piece of legislation and despite it having appeared nowhere in his election manifesto (unlike his "cast iron" guarantee that we would have our referendum on Europe).

And STILL he concentrates on utterly peripheral issues - last week it was internet child porn - hardly a nice subject but not exactly one that is going to define our country's place in history! After 24 hours of fanfare it quickly became obvious that this was yet another piece of undeliverable rhetoric. It is now largely forgotten.

Mrs Cameron should stop whispering in her idiot husband's ear.

One thing ALL the pollsters are missing...

A large proportion of Labour voters have been hammered so hard by this Tory led government, they no longer can afford a land line, so cannot be polled by telephone or online.

The true lead for Labour could be massive.

It doesn't surprise me, given the stupidity of the electorate. The turkeys will vote for Christmas, again, because they enjoy the 'fattening up' process and don't look beyond Christmas Eve. The Tory coalition have also proved themselves equally inept at governance. The country is ungovernable. Our political classes aren't fit for purpose.