But what did a recovering economy do for Major in 1997?
It has been one of the key hopes of Labour that the outcome of the general election will be determined by the economy and how well off voters feel by the time we get to polling day. So there should be delight in Downing Street with some of the new this morning.
This is how the main front page story in today’s Guardian by Ashley Seager, economics correspondent, opens:-
“Gordon Brown was given fresh cause for optimism today as a slew of new figures gave the clearest indication yet that the British economy is beginning to pull out of recession..The data showed unexpectedly strong signs of recovery in the housing, manufacturing and all-important services sectors, bucking almost two years of constant bad news on the economy which has badly damaged Labour’s hopes of securing a fourth general election victory…
…The news will provide some relief for Downing Street, which badly needs ammunition for fighting a probable spring election. It could also help Brown rebuild his reputation for economic competence as he prepares for the crucial party conference season next month.”
If the trends continue then there’s little doubt that this should help boost Brown’s confidence which had taken a serious battering since the polls plummeted following the Damien McBride business and then the MP expenses exposes.
But is the conventional wisdom that the election is exclusively about perceptions of economic well-being correct? Isn’t the evidence of Major’s government in the 1996/97 period that economic recovery is little help to a government that has simply lost the confidence of the electorate?
A poll finding that I’m fond of quoting is from the ICM survey that was published on the morning of the general election in May 1997. This had the Tories ahead on the economy – and a fat lot of good it did them. The public simply did not believe that the Tories were competent to govern any more and, as we all know, Tony Blair got his landslide.
It should be said, as well, that Major’s Tories were polling at much higher levels in the year before the 1997 election than Labour are now. They did not drop out of the 30s with ICM from May 1996 onwards – just compare that with Labour’s current polling predicament.
The one thing that could give Brown some hope is that he’s had two very good Septembers during his period at Number 10. Maybe today’s news will help him do it again?