Marcus Evans Group | Worldwide Headquarters | American Offices | Latin America | European Offices | African / Asian Offices

It’s the economy, stupid!

The Guardian Northerner’s political commentator Ed Jacobs introduces a plea from all three MPs for Hull. Liverpool council leader Joe Anderson will join the debate in a later post

For the fourth week in a row Ed Miliband made the Government’s health reforms the centre piece of his attacks during Prime Minister’s questions. Yet despite the energy with which Labour are fighting the plans, with tweets, press releases, articles and interviews on a daily basis, and Miliband’s declaration that the contentious Health Bill would become the “defining issue” at the next election polling has consistently showed that whilst it retains a lead, Labour have not made the kind of momentous breakthrough they would have hoped for in the current climate. As Janan Ganesh, Political Correspondent at the Economist this week Tweeted:

The stability of politics right now is stunning. Economic misery, coalition chaos, interminable NHS crisis. Impact on the polls? Zilch.

But why is this? The answer is fairly simple – as Bill Clinton once famously declared: “It’s the economy stupid.” Blunt, but true words, perhaps never more relevant than they are today. Whilst Miliband is able to stand up week after week and reel off lists of organisations coming out against the Government’s reforms to the NHS, this simply does not equate to the much needed vote he and Labour need and that goes for Northern England has much as anywhere else.

Take this week’s poll by YouGov for the Sun which found an overwhelming majority of Northern England, 74%, concluding that the economy remains the most important issue facing the country compared with the 40% who had Health down as the biggest issue. Meanwhile, the sense of apprehension about the future across the region was solidified in polling by Ipsos Mori for Reuters which reported that 51% of people across the north felt the economy will get worse, compared with 27% who said it would remain the same and the just 19% who said it would improve. Clearly, the CBI’s confidence that growth would restart over the course of the year is not necessarily shared across the north.

The danger for Ed Miliband in pursuing health reform quite as much as he is, is that he will begin to be painted as a one trick pony and one which concentrate on what is an important, but not the most important concerning the voters. As the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Leeds West MP, Rachel Reeves declared recently in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research:

It’s precisely because we on the centre left believe in the power of public services and active government to transform lives, and make our country fairer and more prosperous, that we must ensure we pass the test of fiscal credibility.

That’s why, as Ed Balls announced at the Labour Party conference last year, before the election, we will be committing to new fiscal rules that will get our current budget back to balance and our national debt on a downward path.

If we don’t get this right, it doesn’t matter what we say about anything else. Because earning people’s trust that we will be responsible custodians of public money is the precondition for gaining the right to be heard on any other issue. Sound public finances will always be the indispensable platform for delivering our programme in government: for better public services; for rising living standards; and for building a more responsible, more equitable, more sustainable capitalism…

Being trusted with the nation’s finances, and building a stronger fairer Britain, are imperatives that are not only compatible; they are also inseparable.

And at the heart of the economic strategy now being crafted by Labour has got to be one issue above all else: jobs. The furore over recent weeks about the Government’s work experience scheme has been a testament to how much the basic issue of work and getting a job matters to voters.

When they next go to the polls, uppermost in their minds will be a simple test – under which party or parties do they feel as though they have personally prospered most. For the majority, jobs and uncertainties (or otherwise) about future prospects will be the litmus test.

That is why the coalition is performing so badly across the north. The most recent data from the Office for National Statistics has shown that whilst UK wide unemployment stands at 8.4% in the North East it remains stubbornly high on 11.2%, in the North West at 9.3% and in Yorkshire and the Humber at 9.9%.

With employment a necessity for many, not just to be able to pay the bills and look after the family, but also and osten just as importantly, to provide a sense of self-worth, Labour needs to regain ground on the economy and jobs in particular if it is to stand any chance at the next General Election.

And there are few places where the issue is more acutely felt than in Hull. As if the loss of 900 jobs at the BAe plant in nearby Brough were not bad enough, the city is now having to come to terms with the prospect of losing just over 300 jobs as a result of the potential closure by Comet of its call centre there. All this as an analysis has highlighted that there are now 80 people out of work for every job being created in Hull – the worst position of any other UK city or town.

Outlining the bleak position the city now faces, Hull’s three MPs, Alan Johnson, Diana Johnson and Karl Turner, in a guest piece for the Guardian Northerner today argue:

The recovery of early 2010 was squashed by the Coalition going too far, too fast with its incomes squeeze, and cuts to public services and regeneration funding, focussed most on deprived areas. Hull has been hit hard very hard.

They continue:

If the UK is to grow in the global economy, places like Hull need to make a full contribution. A chance to succeed, that’s all we ask.

What do you think? Are you optimistic about the economic future? How do we create the jobs the North needs?
Ed Jacobs is a political consultant at the Leeds-based Public Affairs Company and devolution correspondent for the centre-left political and policy blog, Left Foot Forward. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds