Reconciling fact with populism

If you’ve picked up a newspaper in the last couple of days, you’ll know that 2013 was officially the best year for the British economy since the start of the financial crisis in 2007.

Champagne corks are unlikely to be popping in the Treasury – we’re still in a period of austerity after all. But yesterday’s figures gave rise to a profound sense of relief that could hardly have been more evident than George Osborne’s performance in yesterday’s Treasury Questions. It would be a mistake, however, to think that the welcome news of economic recovery sets the Government, or at least the Conservatives, on a road destined to lead to electoral victory in 2015 – a fact that many PR consultants and political advisors will readily recognise as the difference between fact and populism.

Reports of economic growth attract the scepticism of some (Vince Cable claiming we’re experiencing the wrong type of recovery based on a housing bubble and the decision of Standard & Poor to retain a negative outlook on the basis the UK’s economic growth might not be sustainable). But more importantly from the perspectives of a media narrative, they can come across as dry and abstract.

Before local visits, Tony Blair used to be tested by aides on the prices of milk and groceries, which was a recognition of how members of the public are concerned with how the national situation – including that of the economy – affects them personally. There is no doubt that the growth of the economy is, even in the short-term, good news and the Chancellor will benefit from it (new polls suggest the Chancellor and the Prime Minister are amassing a considerable lead over Ed Miliband and Ed Balls). But to capitalise fully on the success, the Government will have to ensure that economic growth filters down to a public growing weary of the rising cost of living of living. Otherwise, no matter what the economic outlook and what the polls say, the Government and Conservatives in particular will remain susceptible to claims that we’re not all in this together.

Chris Rogers