Why Labour could win in 2015 even if the Tories are more trusted on the economy

In 1997, the Tories enjoyed a 22-point lead over Labour on "managing the economy" but with growth restored, voters decided it was safe to change captain.

The economic recovery has barely begun but David Cameron and George Osborne already appear to be reaping the political benefits. The latest Guardian/ICM poll shows that support for their management of the economy has risen to 40 per cent from 28 per cent last month giving them a 16 point lead over Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. 

With growth likely to be purring along at around 2 per cent by 2015 is it game over for Labour? Not necessarily. It's true that economic approval ratings are frequently a reliable long-term indicator of the election result but it's worth noting the exceptions to this rule. Ahead of the 1997 election, as Balls likes to remind his colleagues, Labour trailed the Conservatives by seven points on "managing the economy" and by 22 points among those who said the issue was important, according to MORI's regular tracker. It was only after the party's victory that it established a consistent lead over the Tories. While voters believed the Conservatives would run UK PLC better, they still preferred Labour after years of sleaze and run-down public services. 

Source: Ipsos MORI 

It's possible, then, that Labour could win in 2015 despite not being trusted over the Conservatives on the economy (just as it leads today). Indeed, if growth returns as strongly as the Tories hope, the voters may conclude that it's safe to change captain now the storm has passed (as was the case in 1997). A Miliband government that would invest more heavily in areas such as housing and jobs and ensure that the proceeds of growth are distributed more fairly may be preferred by an electorate weary of small state conservatism. 

But it would be Panglossian for Labour to assume as much. As things stand, while the party retains a slight but consistent poll lead over the Tories, it is still viewed as less economically competent and its leader as less fit to be prime minister. Oppositions have managed to defy one of those handicaps in the past (as I've noted before, the Tories won in 1979 despite Jim Callaghan's 19-point lead over Margaret Thatcher as "the best prime minister") but I know of none that has defied both. 

It is already clear that the Tories' election campaign will focus on maximising both of these advantages. "Do you want David Cameron or Ed Miliband as prime minister?" they will ask, framing the contest as a presidential one, and "do you want to hand the keys back to the people who crashed the car in the first place?" It is a ruthless and simple message of the kind Labour still desperately lacks. 

Ed Miliband and David Cameron during the service to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey, on June 4, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.