Amol Rajan: Focus of any election can determine who triumphs

FreeView from the editors at i

Share

It was Chester James Carville, Democrat campaign strategist, who in 1991 started saying: "It's the economy, stupid." This was one of the three messages central to Bill Clinton's successful campaign the following year. The other two were "Change vs more of the same" (which worked later for Obama) and "Don't forget healthcare."

Carville's pithy phrase has infected Western politics so much that it is now the conventional wisdom that elections are won or lost according to the health of the economy. There is strong evidence for this, including basically all the recent election results in Europe, where generally centre-right incumbents have been thrown out by electorates feeling the pinch.

All of which renders the current American election race peculiar. Contrary to the loudest views in their media, Obama's handling of the economy has been impressive. A Depression has been averted, Wall St has been stabilised and jobs and growth are returning – albeit too slowly for America's struggling middle class. But because Mitt Romney is seen to have the upper hand on matters economic, the Obama campaign is seeking to frame the election race as a battle between jobs (Romney) and social justice (Obama). Obama is changing the question put to voters this November from "How rich do you feel?" to "What sort of society do you want to live in?" The latter requires more intellectual effort to answer. It is therefore the wrong question – though so long as Romney is more trusted on the economy, it may be a necessary one.

Jobs versus justice happens to be the context in which Britain will go to the polls in May 2015. That will be a referendum on whether or not Osbornomics and austerity have worked, though Ed Miliband would rather talk about fairness-for-all.

There are two ironies here. First, David Cameron's whole mission as Conservative leader was to be a sociocentric one. He wanted to talk justice, but the effect of his policies (and the Eurozone crisis) is that he's been forced to talk jobs instead. Second, Ed Miliband's mission in politics is to reorder society to make it more just. And yet, on current evidence, the public don't trust him on justice-related matters but could be persuaded that he and Ed Balls called it right when denouncing austerity. Miliband wants to be sociocentric, but an econocentric pitch might be a surer route.

In other words, the jobs-versus-justice debate we have imported from America may force both Labour and the Tories to campaign on precisely the turf they least wanted to.

 

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas