Today we got a glimpse of why the Conservatives are probably going to lose the next election

December 19, 2012 4:00 pm
If the British economy starts to recover quite vigorously in 2013/14, the Conservatives will have a much better chance of holding on to power at the next election. Vigorous economic recovery looks unlikely, however. Things may well feel pretty flat for the foreseeable future.
But even in a flat (or worse) economy, if Labour fails to establish greater credibility on economic management, especially as far as cutting the fiscal deficit is concerned, election victory will remain out of reach. The famous (and clichéd) “jury”, aka the electorate, is still out on that one.
I mention these things to set a realistic context for the slightly more excitable words that will follow. Because in the final PMQs of the year I thought we got a glimpse of why the Conservatives are probably going to lose the next election.
The moment came during the exchange over food banks. Ed Miliband lobbed up an apparently gentle question about the greatly expanded demand for their services. If it was a trap it was skilfully camouflaged one. And perhaps the calmness of the questioning tempted Cameron into relaxing a little too much.
But, unwisely, Cameron did relax. Latching on to the concept of volunteering – prompted by Miliband’s mention of food bank volunteers – the prime minister claimed the “success” of food banks as an example of “what I call the Big Society”.
This was a hopeless response on a number of levels. First, it was a characteristic example of Cocky Cameron, trying to place himself at the centre of a story. Second, it was myopic, claiming that a sadly doomed political idea still had life in it. But third, it reminded us that there has turned out to be, to put it kindly, a bit of a gap between the image of sunny, compassionate Candidate Cameron and the reality of life under prime minister Cameron.
Itwas an open goal, and Miliband netted the rebound:
“I never thought that the big society was about feeding hungry children in Britain,” he observed crisply.”
This was a moment that could inspire Labour’s attack on the government’s record between now and polling day. The Conservatives told us they had changed, Labour will be able to argue, but in office they looked more like an 80s tribute band, and a pretty talentless one at that. We were told that something marvellous called the big society was coming. But in practice this meant food banks springing up all over the country. Indeed, the prime minister himself claimed their growth as a sign that his big society vision was being realised. That is not a big society that anyone could want to see.
There is a long way to go to the next election. Over the next two years the unexpected will happen, as it always does. Labour’s poll lead is good but not yet good enough.
But, in this last session of the year, a potentially fatal crack opened up at the very centre of the government’s façade. We haven’t heard the last of this.
  • Hugh

    Is the expansion of food banks an accurate proxy for growing numbers of hungry kids? If so, what should we make of the fact that the charity sector sector – including those charities serving deprived UK communities – grew massively during Labour’s term in office?

    • RedRiding

      Two different things…
      Charities were / are used to provide specialist services, rather than for profit companies or local authorities and they have their place (shame that the Tories are closing a lot of them down despite the BS ..bullshit!)

      Soup Kitchens are emergency stop gaps, it’s not that charities provide the food that is the problem but that benefits and wages are so low that parents cannot afford to feed their children

  • Amber_Star

    The Big Society had lacked a pulse for quite some time; Ed buried it today.

    • islandmonkey

      It’s just another meaningless slogan…

  • NT86

    It is nothing short of a tragedy that food banks can even exist in one of the top 10 biggest economies in the world. Just because of the right’s pathological and economically illiterate ideology about the state. Cameron glibly dismissing this as part of his toothless and pathetic Big Society initiative exposes his inability to properly explain what it entails. He’s losing the moral authority to run this country.

  • leslie48

    Ed maybe needs to get this one over – Carney will get around £1 million a year including a quarter a million housing allowance. Incredible the government can get away with this as it takes massive cuts to most other public services and reduces the pay of others. It makes the UK look positively feudal with the bank and business barons living on lucrative incomes while the peasants must bear the brunt. Yes of course we will need to address how public sector money will be allocated after 2015 – but a million a year for one public servant!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Graeme-Hancocks/1156294498 Graeme Hancocks

    The “big society” was one big flop. Just PR drivel without any substance.

    • AlanGiles

      Very true. Slogans never work – only real practical action..

      However, “One nation” is equally as meaningless a slogan, and unless Labour has some real and inspirational and acheivable policies it, too, will just be PR drivel. Sadly while Crudas was editing LL recently, it seemed a competition to see how often each writer he commissioned could get the slogan into his/her article.

      An incoming Labour government should, once and for all, make sure there is no replacement for Trident, an expensive White Elephant if ever was

      • leslie48

        I disagree – at first it did sound rather thin but not now ; there’s just far too much going on from the massive inequality in incomes, reduced tax on millionaires including the banker taking over soon on 3 million , disgraceful tax avoidance, suspicious business practice ( i.e. FT is reporting as Comet collapse with 6000 jobs gone one director is getting 50 million) , massive drop in university places, women most likely to loose jobs… Obama won because he realised a post-modern society is not one that can be run by a selfish elite of plutocrats who have nothing but disdain for anyone outside their privileged elite. Its time we exposed more of capitalist wrong doings.

      • leslie48

        I disagree – at first it did sound rather thin but not now ; there’s just far too much going on from the massive inequality in incomes, reduced tax on millionaires including the banker taking over soon on 3 million , disgraceful tax avoidance, suspicious business practice ( i.e. FT is reporting as Comet collapse with 6000 jobs gone one director is getting 50 million) , massive drop in university places, women most likely to loose jobs… Obama won because he realised a post-modern society is not one that can be run by a selfish elite of plutocrats who have nothing but disdain for anyone outside their privileged elite. Its time we exposed more of capitalist wrong doings.

      • leslie48

        I disagree – at first it did sound rather thin but not now ; there’s just far too much going on from the massive inequality in incomes, reduced tax on millionaires including the banker taking over soon on 3 million , disgraceful tax avoidance, suspicious business practice ( i.e. FT is reporting as Comet collapse with 6000 jobs gone one director is getting 50 million) , massive drop in university places, women most likely to loose jobs… Obama won because he realised a post-modern society is not one that can be run by a selfish elite of plutocrats who have nothing but disdain for anyone outside their privileged elite. Its time we exposed more of capitalist wrong doings.

      • leslie48

        I disagree – at first it did sound rather thin but not now ; there’s just far too much going on from the massive inequality in incomes, reduced tax on millionaires including the banker taking over soon on 3 million , disgraceful tax avoidance, suspicious business practice ( i.e. FT is reporting as Comet collapse with 6000 jobs gone one director is getting 50 million) , massive drop in university places, women most likely to loose jobs… Obama won because he realised a post-modern society is not one that can be run by a selfish elite of plutocrats who have nothing but disdain for anyone outside their privileged elite. Its time we exposed more of capitalist wrong doings.

        • AlanGiles

          The problem is Labour is still far too keen to glance over it’s shoulder to see what the tabloids are saying – they are scared stiff of frightening “Middle England”, and lets be frank about it – the avefrage Daily Mail reader doesn’t give a damn that Comet staff have been made redundant a week before Xmas.

          There never will be “one nation”, sadly. It was ever thus

          • RedRiding

            They might not give a toss on a personal level, However, there is evidence that redundancy will not be paid, and the state will pick up the tab.
            In the same way as a living wage would pull many out of in work benefits, and Starbucks clever accounting costs them in the long run, even Daily Mail readers can see we can’t keep bailing out corporate greed.

  • Tim Newcome

    This is a good article as it highlights a potentially major mistake by Cameron which reflects badly on the Conservatives’ Big Society idea. However the article sets the argument in context by referring to the need for Labour to establish greater economic credibility, particularly in relation to cutting the deficit. I think a greater focus should be devoted to this in commentary on Labour List and other blogs. It is going to be the number one issue in the 2015 General Election. The public will vote on which party represents the greatest economic credibility and has practical answers to the economic situation. Labour has to make this issue its number one priority from now until the election. The problem as it stands is that while Labour holds a lead in the polls, the party has not established economic credibility. There has to be more public discussion on what Labour would do if the party were in government now. The Conservatives constantly repel attacks on Coalition Government economic policies by pointing to Labour’s economic record and the argument that Labour left the country in economic crisis. Labour has to be developing and presenting to the public why the situation was more complex – bank bailouts and the global economic crisis being central to this, but also admit that mistakes were made. There has to be a clear explanation of how those mistakes would not be repeated if Labour is returned to government in 2015. The Conservatives will use Labour’s economic record as a key weapon in the lead up to the GE in 2015. We need to prepare for this now. Crucially, Labour has to develop and communicate to the public how and why it can substantially reduce the deficit and create economic growth.

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