Inside Westminster: Recession may be over, but no one is making capital

 

As the five-year parliament reaches its halfway mark, the Coalition’s key decision-making “quad” – David Cameron, George Osborne, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander – has been expanded to include David Laws, the Liberal Democrat who returned to the Government last month, and Oliver Letwin, the Conservatives’ policy chief. “It’s still known as the quad,” one insider explained. “We can’t call it the sextet.”

In the next five weeks, this group will take the crucial decisions about two major statements that will shape the two-and-a-half years to the 2015 election. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 5 December will reveal whether the two parties can trade Tory welfare cuts for Liberal Democrat higher taxes on the wealthy. The Coalition’s mid-term review, published around the same time, will tell us how ambitious it will be on issues such as social care.

The backdrop to the group’s discussion is different after Thursday’s official figures showing that the recession is over. Economically, not much has changed. Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne were wise not to get too carried away, knowing the economic statistics will be patchy for a long time. Tory ministers hope the elusive business and consumer confidence will materialise but admit privately the falling unemployment figures are not as good as they look, since many of the new jobs are low wage, part-time ones for women in the South-east.

Politically, however, the GDP figures are very significant. They offer a glimpse of a different landscape in 2015, in which the Tories go to the country with the message: let us finish the job of clearing the deficit, and don’t let Labour ruin it. The first line of their election slogan, “Britain is on the right track”, was in the Cameron-Osborne script this week.

Yet there is a problem. The limited good news on the economy is being buried by bad news of the Tories’ own making. The disastrous Budget in March, the West Coast rail line franchise fiasco, the Andrew Mitchell “plebgate” affair and Mr Cameron’s botched announcement on energy bills paint a damaging picture of an out-of-touch and incompetent government. “When the smoke clears and the bad headlines stop, we can see some encouraging figures on the economy, health and crime,” one Tory aide said. The trouble is that, in the last six months, there has been too much smoke, and that’s probably all the public see.

No wonder the Liberal Democrats feel frustrated. Most of the unforced errors have been made by Tory ministers, not theirs. In the Coalition’s first year, the Liberal Democrats paid a heavy price in the opinion polls for the Government’s unpopular cuts, while the Tories somehow avoided taking a hit. Yet in the second year marked by the Toryshambles, the Tories lost support and the Liberal Democrats appeared to suffer collateral damage.

As well as swallowing some bitter Tory pills in the national interest, Liberal Democrat ministers have, in many cases, performed better than their Tory counterparts. When they had to resign (Mr Laws, Chris Huhne), they went quickly, without clinging on and prolonging the damage like the ousted Tories (Mr Mitchell, Liam Fox). When the Liberal Democrats make a mistake on policy, they know it often makes sense to put your hand up and admit it. If Mr Clegg had promised all energy consumers the lowest tariff, I have a feeling he might have admitted his cock-up. In contrast, Mr Cameron’s instinct is to plough on and cobble together a policy to fit his premature promise.

Perhaps the biggest impact of Britain’s emergence from recession will fall on Labour. Some senior Labour figures insist “the fundamentals have not changed” because of a one-off Olympic bounce. They may be right economically, but they are wrong politically.

The return to growth, however fragile it proves, should strengthen Ed Miliband’s hand as he tries to make his One Nation Labour the vehicle for his own radicalism, in a series of speeches starting on Monday. He will face plenty of internal battles, not least with more cautious colleagues who will argue that, with the Government making so many mistakes, Labour should not take risks but let the Tories continue to shoot themselves in both feet.

However, there is no guarantee the Tories’ self-inflicted wounds will continue, or even that voters will remember the omnishambles. In the election race, the last lap –the last year – will matter most. That’s when the crowd will be watching. Labour needs to put on a spurt now, so it has a bigger poll lead when the last lap begins.

Other Labour folk hope Mr Miliband will trust his own instincts. Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, may have been proved right about the cuts being “too far, too fast” when Britain slid into double-dip recession, but Labour can’t expect plaudits from the public and now needs its own economic tune. Voters won’t be interested in a sterile debate about economic statistics and who was right: it’s the forward offer that matters.

“We can’t go into the next election promising to implement George Osborne’s plan for the next five years,” said one Labour adviser. “To win, we have to be credible and offer real change.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own