Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
8 July 2014updated 21 Sep 2021 5:05am

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. 

By Harry Lambert

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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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.

Content from our partners
Stella Creasy: “Government’s job is to crowdsource, not crowd-control”
Industrial Strategy: Ensuring digital skills are included
The Sugar Tax: what does it mean for the wider economy?

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.