This is not an acceptable plan for economic growth. Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

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.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

0800 7318496