Economics and leadership, as ever, will determine the next election

by Jonathan Todd

After Neil Kinnock gained 43 seats to give Labour 271 MPs at the 1992 general election, he resigned and John Smith promised ‘one more heave’ to Labour government.

When Tony Blair succeeded John Smith, he sought to further smooth the path to government. He promised to not increase income tax or reverse the 1980s redrawing of the boundaries between state and market, and would be ‘tough on crime’. Labour, in short, was nothing, especially for swing voters, to be afraid of. Reassurance was the watchword.

After adding 30 seats at this year’s general election to create a PLP of 262 MPs, Jeremy Corbyn has been lauded beyond Kinnock’s wildest dreams.

The biggest cheer of the shadow chancellor’s conference speech was for promising to renationalise rail, water, energy, and the Royal Mail. The construction industry (every builder?!) was also earlier promised. As well as PFI contracts.

“We’re taking them back,” John McDonnell declared. A phrase with a ring of ‘taking back control’. Delivered with the vengeful glee with which President Trump calls for NFL players to be sacked.

Massive, complicated, open-ended commitments. John McDonnell’s speech indicated that they’d be financed by “closing tax loopholes”. Like no one – including, at least to some extent, the incumbent government – has tried that. There was also unconvincing talk of compensating equity holders with government debt.

The CBI warned of “investors running for the hills”. McDonnell speculated about a government in which he’d serve inducing a run on the pound. Don’t say you weren’t warned!

It wasn’t so much ‘one more heave’ as a great leap forward. Perhaps only Maoists could find it reassuring.

The UK is not usually a country where such a performance would be welcomed but in the fog of Brexit, we’ve lost track of who we are and what we’ll vote for.

In the simpler times before 23 June 2016, we tended to think that two factors are decisive in general elections: economic perceptions and leadership.

The Todd thesis, linked the Conservative share in opinion polls to economic perceptions. Two assertions now build upon the logic of that thesis: the more people feel the economy is doing well at the time of the next election, the more likely the Tories are to win; the more the Tories can swallow and deliver de facto Remain, the more likely the economy will come to be perceived to be doing well.

There are signs that people do not now think the economy is doing well. Over the summer, for example, the Ipsos MORI Economic Optimism Index fell to its lowest level since 2011. While the austerity years have been tough for many, the Tories built sufficient economic optimism in the period following 2011 to help carry them to a majority in May 2015.

Can the Tories pull off the same trick in the period between now and the next general election?

Brexit makes this much harder. The uncertainty over the UK’s trading terms with the rest of the world deters investment. The deterioration in sterling drives up inflation. The heightened unattractiveness of the UK as a destination for immigrants makes it harder for businesses to operate.

It is not a coincidence that the UK went from being the fastest growing economy in the G7 to the slowest in the period before and after the referendum – and what we’ve experienced to date will be a tea party next to a cliff-edge Brexit. The point of de facto Remain is to minimise this economic self-harm.

On this analysis, therefore, if the Tories still care about winning, they’ll be cheering for Philip Hammond (an advocate of de facto Remain) and turning on Boris Johnson (an opponent). They will also not allow Theresa May to fight another general election as leader.

A ruthless focus on victory would produce this Tory mix by the time of the next election: we delivered Brexit; we secured economic improvement (assisted by de facto Remain); and we are led by the personification of our post-Brexit future.

Uncut does not know who this leader is. But it is not Theresa May, who may be the prime minister to take the UK out of the EU but will never again, if she ever did, communicate a glad, confident tomorrow. This leader may not emerge at this Tory Party conference. The most urgent strategic imperative is not that they do but that de facto Remain strengthens its hold over the party.

No matter how big a leap forward comes from Labour, the Conservatives won’t win the next election by default. Prime Minister Corbyn could happen. But is possibly a more distant prospect than it appeared in Brighton last week. Especially if, in Manchester this week, the Conservatives continue on the path to victory that remains open to them.

Of course, the Tories may not. They may take a great leap rightwards. Leaving a hole in the middle into which our economy and all our futures may fall. But which, strangely, never takes political form. This remains, in spite of the efforts of Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats, the dog that doesn’t bark.

In this era of the unexpected, perhaps this bark being heard is the next surprise. Or, maybe, I am just a centrist dad.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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13 Responses to “Economics and leadership, as ever, will determine the next election”

  1. paul barker says:

    You cant do anything to determine which road The Tories take because you are not a Tory.
    You cant do anything to influence Labour because you are a Centrist & thus part of an isolated minority in The Party.
    You can campaign for Corbyn to be PM, or you can leave Labour & help the Dog to bark. Which is it to be ?

  2. Mike Homfray says:

    Well whoever wrote this certainly isn’t a Labour supporter
    LibDem Unhinged doesn’t have quite such a ring to it. 7

  3. I agree that the Tories would win, if they could unite around a De Facto Remain version of Brexit. But there is zero chance of the Tories uniting in such a way. The Tory membershiup would not elect a leader who proposed this, and if a Tory leader proposed such a thing without a mandate from the membership, the fundamentalist Brexit wing of the Tories would destroy them.

    While I like the idea of the Tories breaking up, and the two party system breaking up with them, the trouble is this probably means a destructive hard Brexit.

    That’s bad, not just because of the immediate damage to the UK, but because it would probably mean a Jeremy Corbyn-led government.

    Corbyn’s indifference to careful accounting should terrify everyone. In the last election, he supported the proposed £7bn/yr of Tory cuts to benefits. But, when interviewed about this, he was confused and contradictory.

    The most charitable interpretation of his support for those cuts is he didn’t really mean them, and wouldn’t implement them. But if he didn’t say what he would do, what else are he and John McDonnell not telling us?

    Corbyn has said that NATO should be closed down. McDonnell has previously said that the greatest influences to his political thinking include Lenin. Corbyn has praised the Chavez and Maduro regimes in Venezuela, and refused to criticise them since the recent crackdown on the opposition.

    If we do end up with Corbyn as Prime Minister, there’s no way we can know what we’ll be getting.

    Somehow, the country needs an alternative to a right-wing, ideological Tory government that’s leading us to a hard Brexit catastrophe, but something other than Corbyn as PM. It’s not going to be easy.

  4. And yet if the people only vote on economic well being issues why did 55% of a high turnout vote for Brexit?

  5. swat says:

    Nothing wrong in being a centrist, or a dad.
    In fact there should be moderation in all things, especially politics.
    No more lurchingtos the right or left wings of parties on a measly 32% of the popular vote, or such radical decisions like Brexit being taken by less than a 2/3 majority.
    It’s true that Corbyn is an unknown quantity, there’s no guarantee that JC can deliver on what in reality was and would be a relatively moderate Labour Manifesto taking back control and putting power back into the hands of the ordinary people, not the 1%.

  6. john P reid says:

    Mike Homfray ,wait till the tory party conference or labours conference next year, even the London council elections next year, will be a low turnout, although this article was preaching to no one , surely you can’t deny its factually correct

    paul barker there’s mayoral elections and council elections, if Jonathon doesn’t like corbyn he can canvass in those elections

    I know someone who voted labour since the early sixties, who voted tory for the first time this year, they were half tempted to vote labour, have 3 years of corbyn, we’d be pout of power for 60 years and it would have destroyed the hard left for ever, but they were worried brexit wouldn’t go through if Jeremy won

  7. Anne says:

    I read that Cameron and Osborn are supporting Amber Rudd for leader – she was a remain campaigner – but, at present I don’t think the Tories will unite. Jacob RM would bring the country back to the 1930s.
    A lot will depend on the outcome of Brexit and, at present, the Tories are making a bad job. If Bombardier is anything to judge bye then the outcome does not look good.
    David D says he is going to retire in 2019 – when the s… hits the fan.
    Some predict that this Govermnent will not go the full team and on present form this could become the position.
    If this present position remains – then JC could become PM. Kier Starmer still remains the most competent negotiator for Brexit. Also Labour are coming with more vision than the Tories.

  8. Tafia says:

    George – that’s leading us to a hard Brexit

    It’s the EU that’s doing that (about the only selfless thing they have ever done for us).

    May is erring to soft Brexit – which if it goes that way will damage the tories immeasurably and lead t the rise of another party that would seek to tear-up any agreement (which would also take votes from Labour) and Labour continues to flip-flop over the issue with no idea what it really wants as it tries to be all things to all men.

    Meanwhile, amongst Leave voters trust in mainstream politicians is even lower as a result of May softening than during the expenses scandal (probably the same amongst Remainers)

  9. Tafia says:

    Jacob RM would bring the country back to the 1930s.

    I beg to differ.

    I’m no tory but JR-M quite publicly separates his personal beliefs from the sovereignty of Parliament, so which of his beliefs do you have a problem with? Abortion? He is a Roman Catholic and his church is adamant life begins at the moment of conception – so lets hear you condemn Roman Catholicism and the Pope. Gay marriage? Germany only accepted it this year. Angela Merkel voted against – so lets hear you condemn Merkel.

  10. Tafia says:

    Some predict that this Govermnent will not go the full team and on present form this could become the position.

    Challenge for you. Name a government of he last 100 years that has gone full term.

  11. Anne says:

    Angel Merkel is struggling to form a government, but she will – but there are lessons to be learned from the growth of far right parties across Europe – this could affect our partnership with the EU. For example will closer control of boarders and an end to free movement of people be an outcome.
    Regarding our economy we should be putting this first in our negotiations with Europe – Francis O’Grady is correct in saying jobs first and `Kier Starmer is also correct in saying ‘in the best interests of the country.’ These principles should be paramount in Brexit negotiations. If we do not get a good Brexit deal JC will be unable to fulfill his dreams of reforming the welfare state.

  12. Tony says:

    “After Neil Kinnock gained 43 seats to give Labour 271 MPs at the 1992 general…”

    Yes, having embraced nuclear weapons, Labour went on to suffer yet another decisive electoral defeat trailing the Conservatives by 7.5% of the vote. Labour’s vote share was still significantly below 1979. Neil Kinnock had certainly not made the Labour Party ‘electable again.’

  13. John P Reid says:

    Tony, labour supported nuvluer weapons in 1979, Kinnock got more votes than Callaghan in 79′ The government always has the strength of being the government,so the public vote for what they’ve got, but losing 4million votes, in 1983 meant Kinnocks increase was always going to be a struggle, as the public hadn’t forgot,both the winter of discontent,and the damege of the loony left in the 80’s

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