This is not an acceptable plan for economic growth. Photo:Getty
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None of the parties can communicate their plans to the public

The BBC's Daily Politics debate was a familiar scene: of a political class unable to communicate its plans to the voters

In this election campaign, there hasn’t been much discussion about the health of the UK economy. There has been discussion about the symptoms: low wages, the unfinished business of deficit reduction, and the pain of austerity. The latter two in particular featured heavily on today’s Daily Politics Economy Debate. But there has been little political discussion about why it is that the UK economy has seen such a slow crawl to growth and is falling further behind other countries in the amount it is able to produce.

Yes, it’s the productivity conundrum again. Without pushing up productivity, firms will be unable to pay their workers more, and deficit reduction will stall again, because the requisite tax revenues will not materialise, as shown in research by the SMF. Robert Peston, the BBC’s Economics Editor, got in one question about the link between investment and productivity, but that was about it for the hour. Most of the rest of the debate focussed on how growth is shared, and the minutiae of specific spending and tax promises.

So we had consensus across the board about the ‘brilliance’ of taking the low paid out of income tax, but little on why the economy has struggled to generate growing wages. David Gauke had another go at explaining where the Conservatives plan to get the money for their promises to cut income tax and put extra money into the NHS; but there was little recognition that it is economic growth that will allow the Conservatives to both eliminate borrowing and spend more. Predictably, UKIP’s Patrick O’Flynn attempted to claim that UKIP was the party of small business despite not listening to business on the problem of filling skills gaps and the risks of leaving the EU.

The SNP and Labour got tantalisingly close. The SNP’s Stewart Hosie highlighted the need to grow the economy. Labour’s Chris Leslie talked about low wages leading to collapsing tax revenues, but his “are you getting a fair deal?” question suggested the worry was more about sharing the spoils than generating them.

The manifestos are actually reasonably competitive on how to create a growing economy, so it is surprising that very little of this is being spoken about in the election campaign. In a reversal of many recent elections, parties are competing on house-building, with Labour targeting 200,000 homes a year and the Liberal Democrats offering 300,000. The Liberal Democrats aim to double innovation and research spending; the Conservatives plan to increase funding for “Eight Great Technologies”. All parties are keen on infrastructure spending. There is also competition on how much education spending will be protected and how many apprenticeship places will be created. These are all areas that economists would widely agree that need to be addressed if we are to improve the underlying health of the economy. They are – if you like – the real components of a “long-term economic plan”.

Yet, none of these were discussed in today’s rather insular debate. While the parties seem to know what they need to do, they appear unable to communicate to the electorate what is needed to fix the economy and how they are going to do it.

Nida Broughton is Senior Economist at the Social Market Foundation.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.