Why the Tories are home and dry in 2015

It turns out we would rather vote for someone who would give us more cash

Share

That's the next election, then. Friday's growth figures were not decisive, but they were the end of the beginning of the election. From now on, the facts of economic life are Conservative.

Until last week, David Cameron had lived up to his promise to lead the greenest government ever. In its first three years, the coalition achieved the dream long advocated by "deep green" environmentalists who are opposed to economic growth. Under this Government, Britain has become poorer, more equal and happier.

The poorer part we know about. Ed Miliband has made "the cost of living crisis" central to Labour's mid-term campaigning. For what feels like 40 months he has repeated "prices have been rising faster than wages for 39 of the past 40 months". Friday's Gross Domestic Product figures leave that slogan unaltered, for the moment.

A couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister tried to slide past Labour's fact-bastion. He said in the House of Commons that "disposable income went up last year". This was what you might call a decorative fact. It looks good, but it is not much use. The figures for disposable income have oscillated around a flat line since the recession bottomed out. The average for 2012 was indeed just above the average for 2011, but the latest figure for real disposable income per head is still lower than the level inherited from Labour in 2010. For the year to mid-2013 compared with the year to mid-2010, it is down 2.2 per cent.

So, yes, on average we are worse off. Everyone knows that. Everyone also thinks that they know who has borne the brunt of the worsening. It is the poor, obviously, while the rich have escaped unscathed, as they usually do. Except that the reverse is the case. The rich have borne more of the cost of the recession than the poor. This surprising fact is contained in a statistical bulletin produced by the Office for National Statistics, which is now independent of the Government, called "The Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income". It was published in July and shows that incomes, after taxes and benefits, have become more equally distributed since Cameron became Prime Minister.

The narrowing of the gap between rich and poor is fairly small; and the Gini coefficient, which measures overall inequality, doesn't explain why food-bank use has risen so sharply – it doesn't capture everything that happens at the extremes. Furthermore, even a small cut in income feels worse to a poor person than a larger percentage cut does to a rich one. But the picture is certainly different from that of the immiseration of low-income Britain and tax cuts for the rich that is so widely accepted as fact.

As Hamish McRae pointed out in this newspaper two weeks ago, Britain is unusual in this respect. In all the other countries studied by UBS, the poor lost a greater share of their income than the rich in the recession. As he said, some credit should go to "Gordon Brown as well as David Cameron for managing to give some protection to people at the bottom".

So we are poorer, but the pain has actually been shared surprisingly fairly and, thanks to Cameron's pre-recession dalliance with the idea that there is more to life than money, we now know that we are happier too.

When he was still Mr Sunshine, Cameron wanted to replace our obsession with gross domestic product with a more rounded measure of "general well-being". Something of this idea survived the post-Lehman Brothers whirlwind, so last week the independent ONS published another statistical bulletin, called "Personal Well-being Across the UK". This reported a survey that asked people "how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?" It found that, in the year to March 2013 compared with the previous year, the average rating out of 10 for life satisfaction went up from 7.4 to 7.5.

Somehow, gratitude to our benign rulers for bringing us this statistically significant increase in our contentment is withheld by the British people. It turns out that money does matter after all and that, satisfied as we tell someone with a clipboard that we are, we would rather vote for someone who would give us more cash.

Hence the significance of Friday's GDP figures. That is the money we are earning as a country. It hasn't filtered through to our bank accounts yet, but it will. Which is why Ed Balls's response was puzzling. It is a bit late, he said, which is true but irrelevant. "It's good news on growth, but not for families," he said, which is also true, but probably not for long.

"I don't like to see these things in political terms," an economic forecaster told me. He was saying that he expected the economy to grow strongly for the next couple of years at least. He thought wages would start to grow faster than prices at some point in the first half of next year. A year before the election, then, I asked. He didn't like to see these things in political terms, but it is unavoidable.

If people feel that they have been getting better off for a year before the election, that is all that there is to it.

twitter.com/@JohnRentoul

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn