George Osborne – still here
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A recovering economy could hand Osborne the Tory leadership

The Chancellor's personal approval ratings move in line with the government's, and a strong year of growth has reversed his dire ratings. 

The past year has been transformative for the coalition.

In July 2013 more than 60 per cent of voters disapproved of the way the government was handling the economy, and only 30 per cent approved.

Now, practically as many people support their approach as oppose it.

By many accounts, a lengthy and slow turnaround has always been part of the coalition’s plan. Cuts were necessary to trim the government back into shape, the argument ran, and both GDP and the government’s approval ratings would suffer in the short run.

But in the long run growth would recover – and so would the public’s view of the coalition’s competence.

That strategy appears to have worked.

After more than two years of intermittent or negative growth, the economy has grown by 3 per cent in the past year – and propelled the government’s economic ratings.

This is very good news for George Osborne, whose political career appeared dead at the start of last year, as the economy stumbled through a fourth quarter of negative growth under the Coalition.

In the nine quarters – or 27 months – from October 2010 to December 2012, the economy grew just by 1.1 per cent in total.

Critics encircled the Chancellor from all angles. The "scale and speed and completeness with which things are going wrong are numbing", declared John Lanchester in the LRB. "This was not supposed to happen", blared the Independent. We pointed to Obama’s rejection of "Osbornomics", and a former Bank of England member called for a new strategy in Prospect.

For most of 2012, fewer than one in eight voters approved of Osborne’s economic plans, and six in ten consistently disapproved of them. In April 2013, Fitch, the discredited but newsworthy credit rating agency, downgraded the UK’s rating.

Osborne had pointed to our safeguarded rating three years earlier, as "a big vote of confidence" for "the coalition government's economic policies". His best-laid plans seemed to be finished.

But the Chancellor’s ratings are now in reverse. One in three voters approve of his approach, and fewer than one in four disapprove – his best ratings for four years.

Osborne’s political life is simply determined by the economy. His personal ratings move in line with the government’s, and the government’s are largely determined by GDP.

If the economy continues to improve, his well-publicised hopes of becoming the next Tory leader are likely to be rekindled.

 

This is a preview of May2015.com, an affiliated site launching later this year. You can find us on Twitter.

 

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

Photo: Getty
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Empty highs: why throwaway plastic goes hand in hand with bankrupt consumerism

We are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff.

A University of California study revealed this week that mankind has produced more than nine billion tonnes of plastic since the 1950s, with almost all of it ending up in landfill or the ocean. With the terrible effects of our decades-long addiction to throwaway packaging becoming increasingly apparent, it’s clear that a fresh approach is needed.

In April 2010, David Cameron set out his vision for Britain in the Conservative Party’s manifesto. Keen to show that the Tories had turned away from the "I’m Alright Jack" individualism of the 1980s, Cameron sought to fashion a softer, more inclusive brand.

The good society, Cameron argued, embraced much higher levels of personal, professional, civic and corporate responsibility. There was such a thing as society, and we’d all do well to talk to our neighbours a bit more. The Big Society, however, was roundly derided as a smokescreen for an aggressive tightening of the Government purse strings. And on the advice of his 2015 election fixer Lynton Crosby, Cameron later dropped it in favour of well-worn lines about economic security and jobs.   

While most would argue that the Big Society failed to amount to much, Cameron was at least right about one thing. We are happiest when we are part of something bigger than ourselves. No matter how much the credit card companies try to convince us otherwise, mindless individualism won’t make us nearly as contented as we’re led to believe by big conglomerates.

By any measure, we are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff. As a nation, we have run up unsecured debts of more than £350bn, which works out at £13,000 per household. Fuelled by a toxic mix of readily available credit and interest rates at historic lows, we cripple ourselves financially to feel the empty high derived from acquiring yet more stuff.

Purchasing has become a leisure pursuit, ensuring the rate at which we acquire new stuff exceeds the rate at which we can find somewhere to put it. Burdened with ever increasing amounts of stuff, consumers are forced to outsource their storage. The UK didn’t have a self-storage industry 30 years ago, but now it is the largest in Europe.

With the personal debt mountain soaring, we’d all do well to realise that we will never have enough of something we don’t need.

The growth of rampant consumerism has coincided with an explosion in demand for single-use plastic. Like the superfluous possessions we acquire, throwaway plastic packaging helps satisfy our desire to get exactly what we want without having any thought for the long-term consequences. Plastic packaging is easy and convenient, but ultimately, will do us immense harm.

In 1950, close to 1.5 million tonnes of plastic was produced globally. Today, the figure stands at more than 320 million tonnes. The vast majority of our plastic waste either ends up in landfill or the ocean, and our failure to kick the plastic habit has put is in the ludicrous position where there is set to be more plastic than fish in global seas by 2050.

There is also growing evidence that our penchant for endless throwaway plastic might be storing up serious health problems for our children later down the line. According to a University of Ghent study published earlier this year, British seafood eaters risk ingesting up to 11,000 pieces of plastic each year. The report followed UN warnings last year that cancer-causing chemicals from plastic are becoming increasingly present in the food chain.

Something must give. Unsustainable as our reliance on fast credit to finance ever more stuff, our addiction to plastic packaging is storing up serious problems for future generations. The instant gratification society, high on the dopamine rush that fades so quickly after acquiring yet another material asset, is doomed unless decisive action is forthcoming.

So what is to be done? The 2016 US documentary Minimalism points to a smarter way forward. Minimalism follows the lives of ordinary people who have shunned the rat race in favour of a simpler life with less stuff and less stress. The most poignant bit of the film features ex-broker AJ Leon recounting how he chose to forgo the glamour and riches of Wall Street for a simpler life. After a meteoric rise to the top of his profession, Leon decided to jack it all in for a more fulfilling existence.

While challenging the view that to be a citizen is to be a consumer is easier said than done, there are small changes that we can enact today that will make a huge difference. We simply have no choice but to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic that we can consume. If we don’t, we may soon have to contend with the ocean being home to more plastic than fish.

Like plastic, our bloated consumer culture is a disaster waiting to happen. There must be a better way.

Sian Sutherland is co-founder of campaign group A Plastic Planet which is campaigning for a plastic free-aisle in supermarkets.

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