At PMQs just a few short months ago, David Cameron let slip a phrase that may come to define the failure of his leadership in the way that “Mission Accomplished” did for George W. Bush (and to a lesser extent “saved the world” did for Gordon Brown). Last year after Cameron told the Commons “the good news will keep coming”, I said that those would be words that would come back to haunt Cameron.
Last Friday – and today at PMQs – that’s exactly what has started to happen.
Cameron put in a spirited performance in defence of his position, but in the end it was all bluster, because the figures are against him. I catalogued some of the stats that make up the charge sheet against his government last Friday, and Ed Miliband used many of them today. The UK economy is still well off its pre-financial crisis peak, whilst the German and US economies are significantly larger. Our economy has grown by only 0.4% in the 9 quarters since Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review. In the same time to US economy has grown by over 4%, whilst the UK economy has shrunk in 5 of the 9 quarters since Osborne’s spending review.
After last week’s poor showing at PMQs, Ed Miliband will have wanted to put on a good show. The persistant government failure to produce growth gave him the perfect opportunity to do just that. He had both a good grasp of the numbers that prove the government’s failure – and the confidence to defend Labour’s position on the economy. Tellingly, Miliband almost went as far as arguing for “good” borrowing to fund infrastructure development and stimulate the economy (housing building anyone?) as the polar opposite to osborne’s “bad” borrowing as a result of falling tax receipts as growth splutters and dies.
Cameron put in a spirited performance at the dispatch box, but it was like watching a cricketer try to deal with a broken bat. First it was broken by Osborne’s failure to produce even basic, measly growth to get the country moving again. Then it was broken again by Cameron’s foolish hubris in predicting (with no basis) that “the good news will keep coming”. Yet the risk for Cameron now is that it may be the bad news that will keep on coming. If the current quarter fails to produce growth, Britain will end up in an unprecedented “triple-dip” recession. No amount of special pleading about the legacy left by Labour (one of growth and recovery, incidentally) will obscure the fact that the Tories have already taken us back into recession and may be about to do it again.
Today, it felt like Cameron was facing up to that difficult truth. What we saw today was almost certainly a precursor to the rows that will be had in the election campaign. By then, Cameron will need to have found sustained growth that makes people feel better off, or a better set of excuses, lest he be confined to the dustbin of history with so many of Britain’s failed Prime Ministers. And what will haunt him once he’s there, is that so many of these crises that are sinking him are of his own making. And his hubris.