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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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.