The omni shambles which is the current government seems to continue. I mentioned the disaster which was the budget and the spin surrounding it recently. Jeremy Hunt and his special advisor have yet again shone a spotlight on the relationship between Rupert Murdock’s media empire and politicians (though of course the Tories were far from the only political party with close links to News International – take a bow Alex Salmond). It has been suggested that Hunt is being kept on at least for the mean time to function as a human shield for Cameron lest the focus turn to his links to News International both via Andy Coulson his former communications advisor and his personal friendship with his Chipping Norton neighbour Rebekah Brooks.
The Hunt saga, difficult as it may be for the government, distracted some attention away from what probably should be the bigger story: namely that the UK has returned to recession. If this news was taken relatively calmly it is no doubt because the stagnation of the last 2 years has meant that few people felt that we were ever out of recession.
Nadine Dorries one of the Tories loosest cannons launched a pretty scathing attack on BBC Radio 2 saying:
“I think that not only are Cameron and Osborne two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk, but they are two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others – and that is their real crime.”
It is probably unfair to say that Cameron and Osborne do not care: more accurately they seem to feel that there is simply no alternative to austerity. There is some truth in that and Labour proposed cuts as well, though not as fast. Furthermore although there may be no “Plan B” it may be that there will be a “Plan A2” with more infrastructure spending (Keynes lite). In the context of a double dip recession, giving large sums of money to the IMF at this phase of the economic cycle may seem a little foolish, unless its real reason is against the possibility not of further IMF borrowing by the EU but IMF borrowing by ourselves.
The economic case that austerity weakens the economy, prevents growth and, hence, worsens the deficit has been rejected by Osborne but is looking more likely to be correct. However, as mentioned above Cameron and Osborne genuinely seem to feel that there is no alternative. That smacks not of economic illiteracy but semi literacy. Again that could be said to be back to the theme of a dilettante government. Maybe even PPE could be blamed for providing self confidence and surface knowledge in the absence of a fuller understanding (though Osborne did History not PPE).
More than anything the current government’s travails make it seem to have limited control of the situation. It harks back to Norman Lamont’s resignation comment on the Major government that is was “In office but not in power”. If that was a fair critique of Major’s government it is and much more so of the current administration.
In light of the omni shambles it is unsurprising that Labour is ahead in the opinion polls: what is surprising is that they are not further ahead. Blair made mincemeat of the Tories in the run up to the 1997 election over their lack of competence yet currently Milliband seems to be having difficulty doing that level of damage. It is suggested that Ed Milliband feels that over the next two years the public impression of the incompetence of the Tories will harden and Labour will win. Thus far, however, the opinion polls still rate confidence in the woeful economic performance of Cameron and Osborne above such confidence in Milliband and Balls. This may change but at this mid point in the electoral cycle and with this degree of chaos Labour should expect to be much further ahead especially on the economy. It seems as if Ed Balls’s diagnosis is much more convincing than his prescription. Labour may win next time but one gets the general feeling that over the next few years the Tories’ popularity will rally and they may well win: if so essentially by default.