This month’s ONS figures will no doubt make good reading for many a Conservative activist up and down the country. GDP growth is the strongest since 2007, unemployment falling sharply, and inflation has finally hit its 2% target. The sustainability of the returning growth may be in question, but at least from the outside (and particularly to the average voter), Britain’s economic fortunes are on the mend, and with them, the fortunes of the Conservative party.
But for many Labour activists, these figures won’t just simply highlight a short-term setback in the strategic chess game that is Westminster politics, but moreover, a series of increasingly dangerous failings at the heart of their electoral machine. Failings which – at this rate – may see Cameron and Osborne veritably stroll back into Downing Street, rather than face the bitter battle which 2015 has been predicted to become.
What are these failings?
Firstly, and to rather state the obvious, the Labour leadership is weak. Miliband is broadly unpopular, as is Ed Balls, and voters simply do not believe that the party has the metal to take tough decisions on the economy, in stark contrast to the Conservatives. But crucially, after an intensive three-year long campaign to improve Miliband’s image, he has never been seen as a credible Prime Minister by a plurality of the British people; Cameron has consistently trumped him. The ‘Red Ed’, son-of- a-Marxist, Wallace and Gromit image has stuck. And it’s staying.
Secondly, and to state the obvious again, Labour are seriously distrusted over the economy. Even with their new Cost of Living/Cost of Cameron/Cost of Capitalism buzzword offensive, according to a recent ComRes poll for The Independent, more people believe their financial outlook would be better under the Conservatives than under Labour. Which means that critically, Labour are failing to win the battle which they’ve specifically chosen to fight. The collapse of what was once an 11%+ poll lead is thus unsurprising.
So as 2014 begins in earnest, Labour must now consider how to move forward. Continue with the buzzwords and hashtags, desperately hoping that the figures will eventually prove them right? Or take yet a different approach, quietly consigning the ‘cost of living crisis’ to the history text book, along with the emphasis on ‘One Nation’ and ‘Plan B’?
Regardless of the image the party chooses to take, it still faces its own crisis: only 14% of the British public believe that Labour are led by ‘people of real ability’. And until Labour is seen as a party of real economic competence, I shall be betting blue for 2015.