Polls aside, Clarke is getting the economy right

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The Independent Online
Does the British electorate prefer its economy to be badly run? Certainly there are worse conclusions that might be drawn from the fact that Ken Clarke's adept management of the economy appears to have no effect at all on the Conservative Party's dismal showing in the polls. Yesterday's Bank of England Inflation Report brought further vindication of the Government's policies. Management of the economy has been, on conventional measures, a huge success.

The report painted a picture of another two years of steady growth and low inflation to come, although it did warn that base rates might need to rise a bit to extend this favourable performance. The Bank even hinted that it agreed with the Chancellor's claim that the economy's growth potential had improved thanks to the flexible labour market. The unemployment count could be pushed down towards 1.5 million without triggering inflation, it said.

Mr Clarke issued a warning earlier this week that he would not sacrifice the public finances in order to announce big tax cuts in the next Budget. It is a fair bet that he will not cut the cost of borrowing again when the Bank of England has started to warn that an increase might be needed. If he does the right thing on both counts, it will be proof of the success of the current policy arrangements, which are designed to get away from the pattern of boom and bust that has long afflicted this country.

However, there must still be a danger that siren voices in the Conservative Party will lure the Chancellor off-course. If steady, sustainable growth and low inflation do not set the electoral pulses racing, there will continue to be politicians arguing for a burst of unsustainable growth instead. It is a false temptation. Voters stay unimpressed by the macroeconomic indicators because they tell you nothing about the sort of things that trouble them - the absence of full-time rather than part-time jobs, the disappearance of perks like tea-breaks at work, the battle it takes to get hospital treatment for an elderly relative, the shabbiness of their environment. Britain does not feel like a prosperous economy yet.

Good economic management is a long game, and the rewards for Mr Clarke getting the big picture right will go to one of his successors. But he should continue to resist the political cynicism of those who argue that he might as well stop trying.