By Mark Dominik
After a week of missteps and mishaps, the Conservatives are on the run. With their lead down to 9 points in the latest poll of polls conducted by The Independent, the Tories have made a fundamental change in campaign direction.
Gone are the vows to quickly cut government spending. The posters of an airbrushed David Cameron promising to cut the deficit, not the NHS, are on their way out. And so much the better, some Conservative strategists might say, because Shadow Chief Secretary Philip Hammond was only ever able to identify £1.5 billion of early cuts anyway.
Instead of providing the voters with the details of their plans to help the country recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the Conservatives have attempted to change the subject of the conversation with today’s publication of their draft manifesto on “fixing our broken politics”. Indeed, over the past week, the Conservative focus has shifted almost entirely away from the economy to MPs’ expenses, lobbying, devolution, Parliamentary authority, public engagement in the legislative process, and any number of other issues. This change in focus – along with how much Cameron dislikes Gordon Brown – was clear from the Conservative leader’s speech yesterday.
Labour must not let the Conservatives get away with this. Nearly 2.5 million Britons are unemployed. Thousands of businesses are struggling to stay afloat. And the future of people up and down the country looks much bleaker today than it did two years ago.
In the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ Green Budget, which was published last month, economist Michael Dicks estimates that in 2015, the UK’s GDP will be 9%, or £132 billion, lower than it would have been in the absence of the crisis. This means that there will be about £2,000 less output for every man, woman and child in Britain in 2015 than there would have been without the crisis. In brief, we will all be a lot poorer over the foreseeable future than we would have been otherwise.
Labour has been aggressively tackling the crisis since it started nearly two years ago – and its handling of the crisis is one of the most powerful arguments it can make in the run-up to the general election. While times have been hard, they would have been much harder without Labour’s successful fiscal stimulus, which the Conservatives opposed at every turn.
It is time to refocus the conversation away from a £1.1 million expenses scandal – shameful as the behaviour of some MPs may have been – and back to how we can mitigate the potential £132 billion annual hit to our GDP from the economic downturn.
We have big problems to address, and these problems are measured in hundreds of billions of pounds, not in millions. To paraphrase Cameron, the country is waiting for him to stand up, grasp these issues by the scruff of the neck, and explain how he would deal with them. Labour has been doing that for nearly two years now on the economy. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait much longer for Cameron to catch up.