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.