Was Cameron’s Europe speech really just two days ago? At the time many on the right (and indeed some on the left) saw it a a probable game changing moment in this Parliament, perhaps one to rival Osborne’s horrorshow budget of 2012 and put the Tories back on course to win in 2015. Despite being annoyed at Ed Miliband for his poor performance on Wednesday, I never really believed we were seeing a parliament defining moment (as I said on Wednesday morning “he has forgotten the golden rule of politics – that the public rarely share the obsessions of politicians”).
But today I believe we may be seeing a real game changing moment. The economy slumping back into decline again after the false hope of the last quarter’s growth raises the distinct possibility of Britain struggling through an unprecedented triple-dip recession. Each time the economy seems to recover the Tories crow that their plan is working, and yet each time the economy falls back their false confidence is recalled and their credibility is ground further into the dust. Only a few months ago Cameron was telling the British people that “the good news will keep coming”. How typically, predictably and depressingly short termist and wrong of him.
And yet this time it’s not just the bungled economic recovery that’s a problem for the Tories, it’s the presentational issues too. Perhaps most damaging is Nick Clegg’s decision to give an interview – released on the morning that the growth figures came out – saying that he thought cutting infrastructure spending had been a mistake. Therefore on the day that growth is the big issue, Clegg admits that sucking growth out of the economy was a mistake. That effectively endorses Labour’s critique of Osborne’s early growth wrecking spending cuts. Smooth work there Nick.
Similarly the imagery of Osborne, Cameron and Boris Johnson having a whale of a time in the uber-exclusive surroundings of Davos is poor “optics” to say the least for the government. Osborne and Cameron will have known when they were photographed in a swish pizzeria last night that the economic news coming out this morning would be grim. But they did it anyway.
Two days ago the country applauded the deft touch the Prime Minister showed in uniting his party on Europe. But the next election was never going to be about Europe – not even the most deluded fetishist of the Eurosceptic right would think so. But the election will be about the economy, which – thanks to George Osborne – is tanking.
We may well look back on this week as one on which the 2015 election turned, but it won’t be over Wednesday’s Europe speech, it’ll be over today’s confirmation that the economy has slipped backwards again. The Tories have staked the whole farm on the economy – and right now, it’s looking like they’ve lost.