UK Politics

No Tory triumphalism over economy

David Cameron Image copyright Getty Images

In a televised debate with Jimmy Carter during the 1980 Presidential election, Ronald Reagan asked viewers a simple question: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

Voters realised they were not and Reagan romped to the White House.

That Reagan line has since become a cliché of political campaigning, second to "the economy, stupid" - the mantra drummed into Bill Clinton's campaign team in 1992.

Of course, the state of the economy is pivotal to any election. And the 2015 general election echoes with these dusty slogans.

But how is the economy framing politics less than three months out from polling day?

George Osborne clearly has a strong pre-election hand to play and is banking on some credit at the ballot box.

'Cost of living'

The chancellor of the exchequer and Tory chief strategist can trumpet strong economic growth, plunging unemployment and record low inflation.

Pay continues to rise fast than prices after years lagging behind.

As the economy teetered on the edge of a second recession between 2011 and 2013 Labour pummelled the government for having a failing plan.

Image copyright PA

Even though the government's original target for demolishing the deficit been missed, Labour's charge has lost its bite.

As the economy began to grow, Labour's economic attack switched to living standards.

The abstract economic numbers were improving but not being felt in peoples pockets.

Labour responded with a promise to freeze energy bills and admonished the government for being out of touch.

Labour spokesmen slipped the "cost of living crisis" into every interview on any subject.

'Core Labour vote'

The Conservatives claim Labour's slogan sounds increasingly threadbare. Look at the facts they say.

But Labour will not give it up.

Many voters do not feel high on the hog, splashing their cash like a London oligarch.

That's particularly true of the so-called "core" Labour vote, many of whom are wage-frozen public sector workers. Average earning power is less than it was in 2010.

Labour argues the economy simply doesn't work for millions of low-paid workers in particular.

Ed Miliband's team also out point low inflation is down to falling global oil and food prices, not some wizardry in the Treasury.

That's the cost of living argument they hope will cut through. Abandoning it before election day is not an option.

And the Conservatives?

You might have expected George Osborne to triumphantly crow "I told you so!".

But there will be no smug triumphalism.

Steady-as-she-goes

The Conservatives want to make this election all about the economy.

But they are also seeking re-electing as the sensible custodians of an economy still in convalescence.

"Let's stay on the road to a stronger economy" was their first election billboard's less than exciting, steady-as-she-goes message and variations of that will be tirelessly repeated.

The Tories do not want voters to think the job is done and argue only a vigorous economy can protect the public services Labour polls well on.

So this shaping up to be a classic economy election. A choice between two questions: "Are you better off than you were?" and "why risk the recovery with the other lot?".

At the moment the opinion polls suggest there won't be a clear cut answer.

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