The Prime Minister’s visit to Washington today for talks with Barack Obama looks like bad news for Labour. While the two leaders will make a joint statement of solidarity against terrorism, which is only to be expected, the US President will also embrace David Cameron as the man alongside him who has helped restore economic growth. This shows that the Tories’ incessant message about their strength on the economy has crossed the Atlantic and gone global.
The pair’s joint article in the Times today signals what their joint message in Washington will be. While the most striking and urgent message in the piece is against the “distorted ideology” and “barbaric killers” of terrorism, and that, “we will not be cowed by extremists”, what they write on the economy is most telling:
Over the past few years, our governments have worked closely to restore economic growth, improve our living standards and make sure families get the help they needed.
Obama and Cameron are showing a united front, presenting themselves as a duo of powerful world leaders who have most successfully manage to challenge, and to some extent fix, the ailing world economy following the financial crash. This is a difficult stance for Labour to counter. The two leaders have even taken the party’s language, “living standards”, for themselves.
Ed Miliband has long seen his strongest message on the economy to be about the “cost-of-living crisis”, and how the so-called recovery, so often celebrated by the coalition, has not trickled down from the few to the many. Couple this with the enhanced prime ministerial look for Cameron, posing on a podium alongside the Leader of the Free World, and this looks like a good PR move – and a tough one for Labour to compete with – so close to the general election. This is probably the PM’s last visit to the US before May 2015.
However, Labour has not entirely been sidelined, as the shadow chancellor Ed Balls is also in Washington this week. He is there to launch a report on how to introduce greater prosperity to the world. The Financial Times reports that Balls is launching a centre-left economic report on international “inclusive prosperity”, which has the Obama administration’s approval and pre-empts Cameron’s talks with Obama tomorrow by 24 hours.
Although Balls’ visit overlapping with Cameron’s is a coincidence, it will help Labour to challenge the image of the US President endorsing Cameron’s leadership. As the BBC’s Nick Robinson, who is in Washington, notes this morning, Balls’ visit is “a signal that some here are preparing for at least the possibility of a change of British government”.
Indeed, Balls is co-chairing the committee launching the report with the former US Treasury secretary and Obama adviser, Lawrence Summers, and is also meeting the head of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, and the current Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, while he’s out there. This suggests key US finance figures have at least a curiosity to make links with the man who may be in charge of the UK’s finances following the election.