Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Cost-of-Living Battleground

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Cost-of-Living Battleground

Article excerpt

Before Ed Miliband announced his plan to freeze energy prices for 20 months from May 2015, he and his aides knew that it would "be big". They had long been struck by polling showing that rising gas and electricity bills were voters' primary concern, ranked above wages, employment and housing. But even they have been surprised by the extent to which the policy has defined political debate since the conference season. To Labour's satisfaction, the Tories have yet to settle on a consistent line of attack, unsure whether to dismiss it as a "gimmick" or as dangerously "left-wing", or to match it in some form.

The policy was devised by Greg Beales (named "Mr Freeze" by his colleagues), Miliband's director of strategy and planning, who had long urged the party to shift its focus away from the macroeconomy towards living standards. It was a reorientation inspired by Barack Obama's 2012 election campaign. In meetings with Labour, Obama aides including his pollster Joel Benenson emphasised how important the president's stance on living standards had been to victory in tough times. A report on the election by the veteran Democrat Stan Greenberg for Miliband pointed to polls showing that while Mitt Romney had led on "handling the economy" and "reducing the federal budget deficit", Obama had led on understanding "the economic problems ordinary people in this country are having" and on "looking out for the middle class".

This left-right split is mirrored in the UK, where a recent ComRes poll found that voters think the Conservatives (42 per cent) are more likely than Labour (33 per cent) to maintain economic growth and keep public spending under control (47 per cent to Labour's 28 per cent), but also that they believe their own family would be better off under Labour (41 per cent to the Tories' 31 per cent). …

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