Saturday 29 November 2014


Much like a dodgy mechanic trying to persuade a vulnerable customer that they need more time to carry out extra work on their car, so George Osborne and David Cameron warned last week of red warning lights flashing on the economic dashboard.
This was a calculated, political move and we're likely to hear more on the subject when Mr Osborne stands up and in the House of Commons next week to deliver to the Autumn Statement.
For the entirety of this Parliament commentators and pundits -  including this author - predicted that the next General Election will be all about the economy. The "red light" warning is recognition of the fact that the Conservative campaign team are worried that that is no longer true, or at least not in the way they hope and need it to be. The economy, and economic growth, is diminishing in importance as a public priority. We've all seen plenty of the Chancellor donning his hard hat and hi-vis jacket to welcome more good economic news: unemployment continuing to fall, GDP growth et al.
The trouble for the Conservatives is that the good economic news brings bad political news. As the economic indicators swing towards the positive, so public concern about the economy has receded and with it less focus on the folk who would run the economy. Immigration, the NHS, reducing the cost of everyday items and the welfare system are all now rated as higher public priorities than economic growth for the government. Hence the warnings of economic turbulence ahead.

Economic credibility is the Conservatives' only remaining electoral strength over Labour, not withstanding Mr Miliband's low personal ratings. David Cameron's Party enjoys a 14 point lead over Miliband and co. when it comes to being trusted to grow the economy. Labour meanwhile lead on keeping down the cost of living and the NHS while UKIP are a long distance the most trust to control immigration.
Expect therefore, to hear a great deal more about the potential economic danger on the horizon. It plays into the Conservatives’ hands to see the economy rise back up the public agenda and turn voters’ attention towards who they most want as custodians.

Switching the debate to economic credibility has added urgency because while things may be improving in the economy at large, it has yet to trickle down to voters. Just 17% say their own personal financial situation has improved. The disconnect between the economy and the pound in the pocket not only supports Labour’s argument that the Coalition government has done nothing to improve things for “hard working families” (the political euphemism for ‘ordinary people’) but it has also helped UKIP’s rise. Many UKIP supporters are the economically “left behind” who have felt little benefit from economic growth.

The worry for Number 10 is that the economy won’t be a sufficiently major electoral issue in May 2015 as voters become comfortable with an improving situation and their heads are turned by other priorities which do not play to Tory strengths.

The Autumn Statement provides the government with the last real chance to make an impact on the economy and the way people feel about their finances. Next year’s Budget will come too late for anything other than promises. The warnings about red lights are designed to make voters consider who they want at Numbers 10 and 11 in difficult times. However, the tightrope the Conservatives have to walk is to convince voters that more work needs to be done on a car that appears to be working ok. 
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Author:Tom Mludzinski

Head of Political Polling
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