In her speech to the Conservative Party conference yesterday, Liz Truss tried to create a divide between the Tories and their opponents. She said there was an “anti-growth coalition” which comprised Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the unions, think tanks, protesters, tweeters, those travelling from North London townhouses to BBC studios in taxis, and podcasters. This was a “perfect” juxtaposition the former party leader, Iain Duncan Smith, said last night on Sky because it gave the Conservatives something to unite against.
However, putting the podcasters and townhouse-dwellers to one side, the problem with this approach is that growth is central to Labour’s strategy. In July, Keir Starmer gave a speech in which he said his three priorities were “growth, growth and growth” – a phrase the Prime Minister appropriated yesterday. The choice, the Labour leader said, was between “Labour growth and Tory stagnation”. In that case, the stated aims of both parties have become broadly aligned and the key question is which party is seen as better placed to grow the economy.
For most voters, growth isn’t about the Chancellor’s goal of a 2.5 per cent increase in gross domestic product (GDP). One poll showed that 60 per cent of people cannot even offer the correct definition of GDP when given five choices. Instead, growth is about whether people feel they have more money – whether their wages increase, whether prices stop rising and whether people can afford their mortgages. Voters now think Labour is the best party to run the economy – a key metric in predicting who will win elections. Framing Labour as the enemy of growth won’t suffice; Truss will need the real thing.
There’s also a key problem for Labour here. As I noted last month, oppositions inherit economies. A Labour government would have to contend with high inflation, high borrowing costs and a high budget deficit. That jeopardises its own plan for growth. At Liverpool last weekend, while many were celebrating the rising probability of a Labour government, some of Starmer’s team privately acknowledged that the economic turmoil risked the party’s plans. Labour has not yet set out a comprehensive economic plan. When it does, there will be difficult questions about how it’s going to be paid for.