German newspaper Die Welt: "Britain on the way to the EU poorhouse"

News of the "cost of living crisis" is spreading beyond these shores.

There was much irritation among the Tories this week at the attention devoted by the BBC and others to the finding that UK average hourly wages have fallen by 5.5% since mid-2010, a faster rate of decline than every EU country except Portugal, the Netherlands and Greece. "It's a Labour story!", they cried, to which the BBC reasonably replied by pointing out that the figures were collated by the House of Commons library. 

But despite the Conservatives' best efforts, the story has spread beyond these shores. As Ed Miliband's chief strategist Stewart Wood noted on Twitter last night, German newspaper Die Welt ran a piece on the figures yesterday headlined "Britain on the way to the EU poorhouse". As CCHQ boasts that growth over the last year (1.4%) has outstripped that of the eurozone (0.7%) and matched that of the US, it's an inconvenient reminder that not all are sharing in the recovery. 

If Labour is to win the election, however, it won't be enough for it to convince voters that they're worse off under the Tories. It will also need to convince them that they'd be better off under Labour. In the 2012 US election, Mitt Romney similarly resurrected Ronald Reagan's famous line - "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" - but the electorate stuck with Obama because the numbers were moving in the right direction and they doubted Romney could do any better. The Tories hope and expect UK voters will take the same view of Labour in 2015. All of which explains why party activists are desperate for those "policy goodies". 

A person stands near dilapidated properties stand in the seaside town of East Jaywick, the most deprived place in England, on April 3, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn bids for the NHS to rescue Labour

Ahead of tomorrow's by-elections, Corbyn damned Theresa May for putting the service in a "state of emergency".

Whenever Labour leaders are in trouble, they seek political refuge in the NHS. Jeremy Corbyn, whose party faces potential defeat in tomorrow’s Copeland and Stoke by-elections, upheld this iron law today. In the case of the former, Labour has already warned that “babies will die” as a result of the downgrading of the hospital. It is crude but it may yet prove effective (it worked for No to AV, after all).

In the chamber, Corbyn assailed May for cutting the number of hospital beds, worsening waiting times, under-funding social care and abolishing nursing bursaries. The Labour leader rose to a crescendo, damning the Prime Minister for putting the service in a “a state of emergency”. But his scattergun attack was too unfocused to much trouble May.

The Prime Minister came armed with attack lines, brandishing a quote from former health secretary Andy Burnham on cutting hospital beds and reminding Corbyn that Labour promised to spend less on the NHS at the last election (only Nixon can go to China). May was able to boast that the Tories were providing “more money” for the service (this is not, of course, the same as “enough”). Just as Corbyn echoed his predecessors, so the Prime Minister sounded like David Cameron circa 2013, declaring that she would not “take lessons” from the party that presided over the Mid-Staffs scandal and warning that Labour would “borrow and bankrupt” the economy.

It was a dubious charge from the party that has racked up ever-higher debt but a reliably potent one. Labour, however, will be satisfied that May was more comfortable debating the economy or attacking the Brown government, than she was defending the state of the NHS. In Copeland and Stoke, where Corbyn’s party has held power since 1935 and 1950, Labour must hope that the electorate are as respectful of tradition as its leader.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.