Christina Patterson: No one believes in the old economic solutions now

Lots and lots of things seem to be bad for the economy. So many that it's hard to know what isn't

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The Independent Online

Well, at least it's not snowing. Snow is lovely, of course, and it makes the landscape beautiful, and it makes even ugly parts of the city look like a fairytale kingdom, and it makes children happy, and it makes people smile at other people, as if the bright white light makes other people look different, and nice, and as if they should be smiled at, but there's one little problem with snow. It's bad for the economy.

We didn't know that snow was bad for the economy, but now we do. Now, after a year when the growth figures were much worse than anyone expected, and when the "green shoots" we were told would come didn't, and when inflation kept on rising, and so did unemployment, which is now on its way to three million, which is higher than it has been for 17 years, we know that snow's very bad for the economy. George Osborne told us in July that it was bad for the economy, and, since he's running it, he ought to know.

You'd have thought that if cold weather was bad for the economy, then hot weather would be good for it, but hot weather, apparently, is bad for it, too. Hot weather is bad for it, and cold weather is bad for it, and royal weddings are bad for it, and problems with the euro are bad for it, and signing revisions to European treaties is bad for it, and spending more money is bad for it, and increasing taxes to bankers is bad for it, and so is trying to curb high pay. Lots and lots of things seem to be bad for the economy. So many things, in fact, that it's hard to know what isn't.

Is spring sunshine OK for the economy? Or autumn rain? If it's the kind of gentle drizzle that means you can still wander in and out of shops with an umbrella, and not the kind of rain that make you feel some horrible god is trying to drown you, and that means you have to dash to Starbucks for shelter, and muffins? Do the muffins stop the damage done by not going to the shops? Are we meant to be going to the shops, even if we "max out" on our credit cards, which the people who run the country keep saying no one should? Are we meant to be mending our roof while the sun shines? Even though sunshine, which used to be good, is now bad?

There was a time when you could think about things like sunshine, and rain, and weddings, and shopping, and muffins at Starbucks, and think that the important thing was whether you enjoyed the sunshine, or the wedding, or the muffins, and whether the rain was good for your garden, and whether you liked the things you'd bought. That now seems like quite a long time ago. Now, it seems that the only important thing about the sunshine, and the rain, and the weddings, and the shopping, and the muffins, and every single other thing you read about, is whether or not it will make the economic forecast better.

It's quite hard to remember that time, when governments, and in particular our government, talked about an economy as if it was something that could only keep on growing, and about money as if it was something that everyone could spend. It was a time when most people thought an economy was something boring you found in the back of a newspaper, or maybe sometimes heard mentioned on the news. It was a time when most people didn't have conversations that were full of words like "double dip" and "austerity" and "fiscal stimulus".

Now, they do. Now, everyone knows what "austerity" is, and particularly the people who have lost their jobs because of it, and most people know that a "double dip" is a bad thing, and that what the economy, which is like a young gazelle that mustn't be frightened, needs is growth. But what they don't know is whether the "austerity" will make things better, or whether the "fiscal stimulus", if it was tried, would make things better, or whether the jobs that are being lost will make things better or worse. And they can see that, whatever the people in charge say about snow, or sunshine, or weddings, or shopping, they don't really know either.

Because they can see that nobody really knows what will help the economy, and because they can see that the euro is in a mess, and that no one seems to know what to do to sort it out, and because they can see that a crisis with the euro would, like the banking crisis, have a very big effect on what happens here, they don't believe politicians who say they have the answers. They don't, for example, believe Ed Miliband when he says that the economy would be better if he was in charge of it, because he hasn't said what he would do that would make it better.

They want to know, when a politician in his party says that something shouldn't be cut, what he or she would cut instead. They think that saying that the cuts that are taking place are "too fast and too deep" doesn't mean all that much, unless you spell out the cuts that you'd be taking more slowly. And when they see union leaders, or people on marches, waving placards saying that there shouldn't be any cuts at all, they wonder if these people have been locked in a cave, without any visitors, or newspapers, or telly.

When politicians say the answer to a very big problem is the thing they always say is the answer, because their party has told them it's the answer, it makes people think they're not really thinking about the problem. It makes them think, for example, of the shirts that a football team wore on the pitch last week, which had a picture of one of their players, who had been found guilty of racist abuse. And of how the shirts seemed to be saying it didn't really matter what the player said or did, but that the important thing was that he was on their team.

Most people like teams for things like football, and cricket, and rugby, but they're not so keen on them for politicians. They're not so keen on teams when they're shouting at each other in the House of Commons, or reciting jokes that other people have written. They can see that the people who are shouting, and reciting jokes, think that the teams are really important, but they don't. They think that the important thing isn't the team, or the shouting, or the jokes, but solving the problem.

This is probably why nearly half the population of this country thinks, in spite of terrible figures for growth and unemployment, that the Prime Minister is doing a good job. They think he's thinking about the problem. They like the fact he is working with people from a different team to try to solve it. They think the leader of the Labour party isn't all that interested in the problem. They think that what he's interested in is that his team wins.

In this, they may be wrong. They may be stupid to trust David Cameron and George Osborne on the economy, since things don't seem to be going very well. But 44 per cent of the population, according to a new poll, now do. Only 23 per cent trust Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

Most people in this country seem to think that what the two Eds are offering is tribal politics. And most people in this country are sick of tribal politics. They're not interested in ideology. They don't care how a policy will "play" with members of a party. What they care about is whether or not it works.

Quite a lot of people in this country are happy to support a team, but they think a team is something to do with a pitch, and they don't think making decisions about other people's jobs, and homes, and lives, is a game.;