Magazine article The Spectator

Grounds for Optimism

Magazine article The Spectator

Grounds for Optimism

Article excerpt

Before the summer, the occupants of Downing Street were being worn down by coalition, battered by bad news and demoralised by dire economic data.

One No.

10 source says: 'We were all so depressed we wanted to slit our wrists. But now we've got our confidence back.'

This is just as well, for the electoral mountain they have to climb is now considerably steeper. With the boundary review went one of the central planks of the Tory plan for a majority, and Ed Miliband's conference speech suggested that there's more political life in him than many had appreciated.

But the Cameroons have justified reasons for optimism. First, the coalition is functioning again. The zero-sum politics of the past year, which did so much damage to both parties, has been replaced by an urgent sense that they both need the government to succeed. There's even an expectation that an agreement will be reached on a trade-off between a 'wealth tax' and further welfare cuts.

The 'wealth tax' element is still under discussion. However, I expect it will not be what an economist would call a wealth tax but rather something a politician could.

Given that responsibility, at the top and the bottom, is what voters most want now, any deal would be politically potent.

The facts are also beginning to move the Cameroons' way. Welfare has been capped, most secondary schools will soon be academies and - most importantly - they are convinced that the economy is about to enter into a period of sustained (if unspectacular) growth. They look at a million more private sector jobs, rising exports, a revival in consumer spending and a record number of start-ups and conclude, albeit privately, that the green shoots are sprouting.

Cameron has told colleagues that his current message is best summed up by the refrain from West Side Story, 'Hold my hand and we're halfway there. Hold my hand and I'll take you there.' This optimism is shared by Tory Cabinet ministers who feel they are accumulating sufficient ammunition for a 'we're on the right track, don't let the other guys screw it up' election campaign. This will be made easier by the prominence on the Labour side of those who so messed it up last time. Tellingly, the coalition has maintained its lead on that most important measure - economic competence - even as the country has gone back into recession.

Another encouraging sign for the Tories is that the Cameroons, who are notorious for being late to the political fight, have finally grasped that they need to go on the offensive. …

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