In Ben Goldacre’s bestselling book, Bad Science, he explains how quack treatments appear to heal people.
“Illnesses are bad… and then they get better. It’s quite natural that when your symptoms are at their very worse, you will do things to try to get better…You might sacrifice a goat and dangle its entrails around your neck…. Then, when you get better… you will naturally assume that whatever you did when your symptoms were at their worst must be the reason for your recovery.”
The maltreatment given by George Osborne and the government to the UK economy is no different. With the double dip recession deep enough that in July this year, GDP was smaller than when the Coalition took power in 2010, during which point even the majority of the troubled Eurozone was in growth, it should come as no surprise that figures released on Thursday show the UK too has bounced back slightly.
This will not stop the Coalition government boasting, and believing, that they have fixed all of Britain’s economic woes. Like the phony doctor insisting that leeching a patient has cured them of their disease, be in no doubt that Cameron and Osborne will loudly proclaim that their program of austerity has been successful. Ignoring wise counsel from Tim Montgomerie to strike a “somber tone” on growth, the Prime Minister opted for an ebullient, Brownesque, chant of the latest statistics at PMQs on Wednesday.
There is little doubt that the 2015 election will be fought almost solely on the state of the economy. The problem for Labour is that if a recovery occurs, Cameron and the Conservatives will be boosted and claim that austerity worked. A ‘say it ain’t so’ response from Labour to good economic news is a mistake. LabourList editor Mark Ferguson’s article on why Labour shouldn’t panic is in danger of making this error. Blaming the Olympics and talking about past bank holidays past is reminiscent of George Osborne’s excuse that a period of snow and bad weather caused the second economic dip. Any charge leveled at Labour that we hope for bad economic news for political gain would be toxic.
If Miliband and Balls attempt to play battle of the statistics against the Conservatives they will lose the debate on the recovery in the same way that we were seen to lose the debate on the deficit and the recession. If we mark the government’s success by old economic indicators of growth and employment without looking at what kind of the growth and what quality employment our own message will fail to cut through. No-one woke up richer on Thursday morning because the economy accelerated slightly. As both Mark and Tim both rightly point out in their articles, families in Britain have taken an enormous hit in their real terms income. Successive reports by the IFS show that the median income in Britain is falling.
Ed Miliband’s speech at Labour Party conference powerfully set out the principles our party would seek to govern on. But unless we hear more about what a Labour Britain would look like in practice, we will be drowned out by the Tories boasting of their own success. It’s easier to create insecure, low paid jobs than stable, well paid ones and it’s easier to follow a model of growth that concentrates wealth at top. But it doesn’t make people’s lives better.
Labour have had a good few months. But laughing at the omnishambles won’t cut it. We need a co-ordinated, radical plan for what our party would do in government. Only then can we defeat Cameron’s charge that Labour hopes for economic woe and misfortune because we have nothing else to say.