Leading Article: No thanks for season's plenty, just blame for indigestion

Share
Related Topics
Sniff the air. Lick a finger and hold it to the wind. Something's coming, something good - to quote the West Side Story song - maybe tonight. Or in the New Year, anyway. The nation has started shopping again, and started moving house with enthusiasm. So, according to the Deputy Prime Minister, the good times must surely be on their way.

The sales help. After the Christmas excesses our material consumption has become a little more bargain conscious, but we haven't stopped shopping. It is as if, having gorged ourselves on Christmas pudding, we just keep eating. Only we kid ourselves that this time we're swallowing healthy green leaves instead.

The shopping frenzy seems to be more than a seasonal fluctuation. According to the unemployment figures, new jobs are being created fast. Although they aren't jobs for life these days, they aren't just jobs for Christmas either. And, to Mr Heseltine's wayward delight yesterday, house prices are rising again, too.

Well may the Deputy PM warble. Received wisdom tells us that this should be great news for the Government. Jobs for Christmas and prosperity for the New Year should lead gaily on to votes in the spring. When the economy is booming, say the pundits, governments get re-elected. When it crashes, they are turfed out. Through the Eighties and early Nineties economic confidence and support for the Conservative incumbents moved hand in hand.

But somehow the old story does not chime true this time. No one seems to believe it. In the past year or so, consumer confidence has indeed been rising, but support for the Conservatives has not. Of course the Conservatives could theoretically turn around a massive gap in the opinion polls and win a general election in May. Stranger things have happened. But even the most extreme Conservative optimists and Labour pessimists are tentative in their predictions that rising economic prosperity in the next few months can help the Conservatives win.

Voters are still grouchy. Had we been roaring into a boom for the past year or so, engines blazing, purses open, the public might have built up the confidence to show benevolence towards the Government. But the boom is neither big enough nor blatant enough to erase the memories of recent hard times. Stepping sedately out of the recession, skirts merely ruffling in the wind, may have been a sensible economic strategy for our inflation-prone nation, but it has not had much positive impact on British voters.

More important, British voters are getting wise to the boom thing. Soaring economic growth today means high inflation tomorrow, and painful recession the day after that. The trouble with 18 consecutive years in power is that you are still around to take the blame for the consequences of economic mistakes. So this time, the Conservatives who presided over the Lawson boom, the overheating of the economy and the explosion of the housing market were still in power through the recession and the repossessions. There is no one else to blame.

The Chancellor, Ken Clarke, is clearly well aware of this. Not for nothing has he avoided fuelling a huge consumer boom with further interest rate cuts and tax cuts at the end of this year. The Conservatives have a lot to do to rebuild their economic credibility in voters' eyes. Heralding a new boom will undermine all Ken Clarke's claims to be a safe pair of hands. And while it might - just might - kid voters all over again, it may also make them even more cynical and dismissive about Government claims. Someone should have explained this to Mr Heseltine before he bounced on to the radio yesterday lauding the benefits of an accelerating economy.

Confidence in the Conservatives' economic competence is not the only thing at stake, however. Voters feel wary altogether about Tory economic integrity. The Eighties felt really good. We thought we could have them for ever. We were told it was a "Tory" miracle. The deletion of those expectations had a huge effect. Graduates who went to university in the Eighties believed there were excellent jobs on monstrous salaries waiting out there with their names on. When they arrived in the labour market to find high graduate unemployment, they felt cheated. Likewise, the home owners who risked all to join the property-owning world lost faith when they went into negative equity. Disappointed people do not swallow promises so easily all over again.

But the biggest reason why the Government may find it hard to reap the political rewards of a growing economy next year is taxation. Having promised so much in terms of tax cuts to come before the 1992 election, the Conservatives were forced to raise taxes substantially instead. Remember what happened to George Bush? On the evidence of decades of presidential elections, George Bush should have won in 1992; the economy was growing, and he was in charge. But he was unable to reap the political benefits of growth himself because he had broken his promise to the voters. With "read my lips, no new taxes" ringing in their ears, voters could not bring themselves to vote for Bush again.

Economies do make a difference in elections. Usually the difference. And rising prosperity should bring some good news for the Government. But for all Mr Heseltine's cheery talk, he should remember that voters don't only look at a growing economy and vote for those in power: they look for someone they trust to sustain it.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Photo match: Nicola Sturgeon on the balance beam on 27 April. Just like that other overnight sensation, Russian Olympian Olga Korbut, in 1972  

Election catch-up: SNP surge, Ed Balls’s giraffe noises, and Cameron’s gaffe

John Rentoul
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk