Accelerating economic decline and the political long game

Conservatives of all shades seem resigned to being in opposition after the next General Election. Apart from minimising losses by trying to trip up Kier Starmer, what is the strategy ? What are they thinking about the future, and are there any useful potential implications for other parties ?

The idea gaining traction amongst some senior Conservatives is that, since the economic fundamentals are so bad, conditions for almost all of the population will continue to deteriorate during 2024 and 2025. 

Therefore it is better to get Starmer and the Labour Party into government as early as politically possible. The logic goes that after six months or so, high expectations of a Labour government will lead to disappointment, and Labour will start to be blamed … initially for not reversing the decline, but then gradually for the decline itself.

Adding to this idea amongst some Conservatives is the view that a Starmer-led Labour Government, boxed in by right wing authoritarian factions, public sector trade unions, Corbyn supporters, and ‘internationalised’ donors, is not in a position by itself to work out how to manage the continuing decline, let alone reverse it. This will result in a Starmer government relying heavily on Treasury and Bank of England officials to handle the worsening crisis; the same folk who have brought the UK to this point in the first place, it is claimed. 

Therefore, the view goes, the scene is set for a new and refreshed Conservative Party back in government soon. This seems to be the leading Tory ‘long game’ strategy; by the time the next election comes along three to five years from now the public will be blaming the new 2024 government.

This strategy is clearly predicated on three main things.

One is that economic conditions will continue to worsen during 2024 to 2026 and beyond (or at least not improve)

Second, Labour and any coalition partners will neither be able to reverse economic decline nor have a plan to do so which is credible in the eyes of the public. The absence of any hint of deviation from economic orthodoxy from Labour in 2023 is a severe vulnerability. 

Third and most importantly, the key to being able to persuade the population to be patient while reforms and shorter term measures are put in place, is to define the problem persuasively. The Labour Party and Kier Starmer have neglected even to start defining the problems and framing them in the mind of the public. There is no ‘Labour narrative’ on the underlying problems for the public to latch on to, and on which to base specific remedies. 

Some might claim that silence this is a canny approach since the Tory press will jump on any pre-election proposal, distort it, and endanger the expected election victory. There are several arguments against this popular view. 

There is no Tory economic strategy for a 2024 election, and there is unlikely to be. Any new ideas will elicit a ‘why didn’t you do this over the last 14 years ?’ response. So the goal is open.

Both Thatcher and Blair won elections with landslides based on clear descriptions of the problems and remedies (rightly or wrongly), a narrative well understood by the public.

Most importantly, however, there are severe dangers in Labour getting into government without a credible plan which challenges orthodoxies. Leaving everything to officials carries dangers. 

The same argument goes for any party which, while maybe not in a formal coalition, is in a ‘cooperative landscape’ with Labour. Parties in the landscape may end up tainted if they don’t have a credible well-thought-through approach. 

There are remedies out there. Will the Lib Dems be looking for them ?

 

* Paul Reynolds works with multilateral organisations as an independent adviser on international relations, economics, and senior governance.

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9 Comments

  • Nigel Jones 2nd Aug '23 - 2:08pm

    Thank you Paul for a relevant general statement about the need for a plan to deal with this country’s problems. It needs to be visionary in the long term to give people hope that we can make Britain great again and proposals for what we need to do quickly to start moving the country forward. Last week, I met a couple who live in Frome and they seemed to be floating voters but were very disappointed that we did not give people any kind of manifesto as to what the Lib-Dems want for our country; the leaflets were too negative and our lack of broad visionary policies put across simply to the public may mean we do not retain the seats we have recently gained.
    You are right about Tony Blair; he gave positive ideas under the heading of Education and although in fact he spent the first 2 years focussing almost entirely on the Economy, it got him into power and enabled him to change things without too much opposition.

  • “There are remedies out there. Will the Lib Dems be looking for them ?”

    I think it is already clear that the main focus of economic strategy will be a Green recovery plan creating jobs and tackling the climate emergency.
    Labour has already made that clear in its investment plans albeit delayed for the first two years. “As to what might be contained in its manifesto, the party has said it might look to make all electricity zero-carbon by 2030 which it says can cut bills and increase energy security. Labour has also said it will insulate 19 million homes and create GB Energy, a public company to champion clean energy, jobs and supply chains.”Green policies compared: what the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems have pledged on climate
    Libdems have committed to a ‘green recovery plan’ that makes five statement pledges:
    Restoring waterways, peat bogs and planting trees,
    Insulating all homes by 2030 and ensuring all new builds are eco-friendly
    A £20 billion Clean Air Fund to safeguard childrens’ walking routes,
    Investing £40 billion in rail, buses, trams and electric vehicles,
    For 80 per cent of British energy to be from green sources by 2030.
    Lib Dem Green Recovery Plan

  • Paul Barker 2nd Aug '23 - 6:17pm

    Yes, the obvious strategy for The Tories is to call The Election as soon as possible, that would be my advice.
    But, there are absolutely No signs that The Tory Leadership see this – they seem determined to hang on till The End of Next Year. Even the few voices calling for an “Early” Election mean Next Spring.

  • nigel hunter 2nd Aug '23 - 11:08pm

    Li9b Dem Green Recovery Plan.If we do not WIDELY publish the plan NATIONALLY who will know what we stand for.It is no good being quiet and asking people ‘nicely’ to vote for us .We have to make a noise so our plans are recognised.

  • Paul Reynolds 3rd Aug '23 - 2:41pm

    Thank you for the useful comments. Today the government explained that the Brexit border checks on food, animal and plant products imported from the EU, which were definitely, definitely, definitely to be introduced in October, 3 months from now, will now be delayed yet again. The government has not given any hint of a new date. Can we now safely assume that the checks will not be implemented until after the 2024 General Election ? If so, that means the Starmer Government will be given the task of ‘completing’ Brexit, eight years after the vote.

  • James Fowler 3rd Aug '23 - 9:44pm

    Mrs Thatcher won several elections (partly) as the result of a very clearly articulated vision – though the implementation was a lot more cautious until post-1983 than the legend now has it. Blair did not really need a vision to win, and the one that he did express was simply pragmatism re-sprayed as ‘the third (middle) way’.

    The issue now is that people are so immiserated and cowed, or alternatively so cosseted and protected, that they either cannot believe/imagine that things could be any different – or don’t want them any different because any changes necessarily detract from they have. This is what happens when there is no growth in an economy.

    This means that ‘vision’ is positively dangerous. Starmer is right to say nothing. He would simultaneously not be believed by some and yet feared by others.

  • Are we not concentrating too much on just ONE election? Now, more than ever, I consider that we (parties and nations) would do well to look ahead with open eyes, and appraise the likelihood — large, I believe — that more and more voters, dismayed by the prospects outlined above, will collectively (but without necessarily realising the fact) bring the whole caboodle tumbling into PR, and the New World of authentic Democracy. We LDs ought to lead that campaign. Or ought I to say “those campaigns”?

    Who is there, apart from two big and failing parties, that does not see, and hope for, the crumbling of the status quo? Then we shall join the big boys and girls at last.

  • 3 wins, all gains, out of 4 yesterday and in the last moving from fourth to second.
    A cause for celebration, these sort of days do not come round very often.

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