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Business Comment

James Moore: These latest CPI numbers add up to very bad news for Labour

Outlook Are we seeing the end of the cost-of-living crisis and with it one of Labour's best lines of attack against the Coalition Government?

Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) yesterday crawled in at just 1.6 per cent.

This is the sixth-consecutive fall in CPI and the first time it has happened since records began in 1997. CPI inflation hasn't been this low for four years and it's almost halved since the 2.9 per cent it reached last June.

What really matters, however, is that wage rises are finally starting to outpace price rises. That is what may deprive Ed Milliband of a barb that has consistently drawn blood. Worse for him is that economists think the trend could continue with the inflationary impact of increasing pay dampened somewhat by productivity gains combined with a stable outlook for commodity prices.

That last factor is providing real daylight for the Coalition. Petrol prices, for example, have remained flat over the last year. Of course, the price of oil, and commodities generally, is not something under the control of governments of whatever hue. But the taxation of it is and the Coalition's short-sighted abandonment of green levies helps there, having reduced household bills. Political pressure on energy companies hasn't hurt either.

So far the improvement in living standards brought about by wages outstripping prices for the first time since way back in 2008 is marginal at best. And the TUC points out that workers are still £40 a week worse off than before the crisis.

But memories are short. The evidence on the ground is that consumers are feeling more comfortable than they have for some time. The economy's recent improvement has been driven by them reaching into their wallets and purses, spurred by low interest rates and low prices.

In fact there is only one commodity where prices are consistently rising, and that's housing, where they are shooting ahead at a speed which really ought to start worrying the Bank given the very real dangers of a bubble being created.

Unfortunately for Mr Milliband's short-term prospects, inflation in that sector tends to make homeowners feel richer even if it is an illusion in reality.