HenryG on Friday
There was a queer moment during this weekâ€™s Prime Ministerâ€™s Question Time where David Cameron appeared to defend his austerity measures and the rising unemployment on the grounds of keeping interest rates low. The usually assured Prime Minister looked oddly out of step focusing on his means rather than the end. With unemployment increasing to the worst levels since 1994, the pressure is on. Conservative Home Editor Tim Montgomerie goes as far as arguing â€˜George Osborne has six weeks to save his economic policy.â€™
The failure of the Government to arrest the rise in employment comes at a time when Labour has eventually produced some worthwhile policy to share. One of the high points of Labourâ€™s conference was the publication of Ed Balls’ 5 Point Plan. The Telegraph has since begrudgingly praised one of the recommendations of a National Insurance holiday for smaller firms taking on new recruits. We need much more like this from Labour. The party should forget the usual rule of Opposition of keeping best policy ideas under wraps until immediately prior to the election. Instead they need to recognise this is a national crisis and the political dynamics are completely different. Each and every quarter they should broadcast new and different ways to increase jobs and publicly offer them to the Government – and only attacking Ministers if they reject them. Let’s get Labour’s best brains serving the country even though in Opposition.
The political challenge for the Conservatives is that although they have won the debate on the deficit to date, unemployment is now overtaking it as the primary concern for voters. Donâ€™t just take my word for it. Research from Lord Ashcroft shows that â€˜the deficit and debtâ€™ is only the fifth biggest priority for voters in Conservative-held marginal constituencies where Labour is in second place. Top of these votersâ€™ priorities are â€˜the economy and jobsâ€™. Newspapers such as The Sun are catching up on the changing political weather and now asking the Government: â€˜We know there’s a plan for the deficit. But where’s the plan for jobs?â€™
This is the new battleground the Labour Party can get into the economic game with. While Iain Duncan Smith has earned some credibility to speak about the social misery of unemployment, many frontbenchers do not look at all comfortable and didnâ€™t put the work in Opposition during sunnier times.
Ashcroftâ€™s poll shows Labour already has a 7% lead to do â€˜the best jobâ€™ on â€˜the economy and jobsâ€™ in those Conservative held marginals where the reds are in second place. I can only see this increasing if the Opposition keeps on producing job creation ideas and the Conservatives ignore them. In this climate of high unemployment it is going to be the jobs deficit not the fiscal or structural deficits that will dominate votersâ€™ everyday concerns. The stakes are high for the Government and higher still for the country.