The Tories are good at politics but hopeless at economics

It's the Conservatives' plans for immediate spending cuts that would stamp on the recovery.

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Here is the Tories' latest poster, which rather brings to mind George Orwell's vision of the future as being "a boot stamping on a human face -- for ever". It is undoubtedly the party's most effective poster yet, and looks just about spoof-proof to me.

With a day to go until Gordon Brown calls the election, the political momentum is clearly with the Conservatives. But while the Tories are getting better at politics (that National Insurance pledge has helped them in the polls), they remain hopeless at economics.

Had they been in power at the time of the financial crisis, it is almost certain that Britain would still be in recession. Their opposition to fiscal stimulus and their support for early spending cuts would have prevented even the modest growth we've seen.

The 0.4 per cent growth in the final quarter of 2009 (up from a previous estimate of 0.1 per cent) was largely thanks to higher public spending and the car scrappage scheme.

The irony of the new poster is that, as our own David Blanchflower has persistently warned, it is the Tories' plans for immediate spending cuts that would choke the recovery and trigger a double-dip recession.

Meanwhile, David Cameron continues to claim that he can simultaneously cut taxes, cut the Budget deficit and protect front-line public services.

The limits of this approach were exposed today by the King's Fund, which accused George Osborne of indulging in a "sleight of hand" by promising to use the money the National Health Service would save from a cut in NI to fund £200m worth of new cancer drugs.

Professor John Appleby, chief economist at the fund, said: "It's a sleight of hand to say the least, because the money isn't there to be saved yet, so the money will have to come out of existing budgets."

There's plenty for Labour to get its teeth into here. But it needs to find a way to communicate the contradictions of the Tory approach to the electorate -- and soon.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.