PMQs Verdict: It’s the Living Standards, not the horses, Stupid

13th February, 2013 2:12 pm

I’ll be honest – I was half expecting horse.

That certainly seems to be the staple diet of Labour backbenchers these days, with each one attempting to outdo the last in the “best horse gag” stakes. At first it was funny, then it was unedifying, now it’s just plain stupid. Don’t they know how flippant they look?

A few weeks ago I was the same? They eat horse in France, I though, what’s the problem? The problem is Bute, which is potentially carcinogenic for humans. And as well as discount burgers, the horsemeat scandal is now thought to encompass kebabs too. Like many Labour supporters, I’ve eaten plenty of cheap burgers and kebabs. I’m well past the point of finding this funny anymore. But at least Labour MPs still can…arf arf arf…

Thankfully Ed Miliband avoided the urge to go horse today, and instead went on living standards – a topic on which Cameron can’t win. As inflation squeezes the middle even further, the bottom lose their tax cuts and all but the richest tighten their belts year on year, Miliband may well have found the topic that will be the centrepiece of his pre-2015 messaging. At the very least he’ll be doing his best to frame the budget next month in terms of its impact on living standards – not least because it provides another metric to rank alongside deficit, debt, growth and inflation. Only by broadening the economic narrative (and relating it to the lived experience of ordinary Brits) can he win the argument.

Some have compared the tactic to those used by Reagan – and it’s true, there are comparisons. But it’s perhaps more useful to take at Bill Clinton and his often repeated slogan (actually written by James Carville) “It’s the economy, stupid”. That wasn’t about such blunt implements as GDP growth or deficit levels, that was about making people feel like they would be better off in the long term under a Clinton Presidency. That’s the argument that Miliband needs to win – and tomorrow’s speech will need to bear that in mind.

We must hope that Cameron’s rejoinder to Miliband’s goading – that there’s nothing new in tomorrow’s speech – is wrong.

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