Thursday, 25 March 2010

Budget arguments show weaknesses in Labour, Tory narratives

As part of today's budget coverage in The Times, Peter Riddell gives a good description of how  Labour and Conservatives differ on the economy and the arguments they use.

I think he gets it about right - Labour's "safety first" vs. the Conservatives' "time for a change". 

"The differences are also about the role of government. Mr Darling is arguing for a benevolent and activist State helping people and businesses. For Mr Cameron, it is not just about cutting the State, but also changing it, “unleashing enterprise” and radical welfare and school reform."

But these statements are not, in themselves, political narratives.  They make assertions but do not recount events or changes.  They do not have characters, although Labour's view, as summarised by Riddell, makes a start.  The statements are not especially memorable.  They are not emotional.  Most importantly, we still don't know "what happens next" - how the stories end - because the major parties have told us next to nothing about how they will balance the budget over the course of the next parliament.  As Bill Clinton always says, elections are about the future, not the past.

This is surely why neither Labour nor the Conservatives have established a clear ascendancy as the best manager of the economy, the top concern of voters.  After 13 years in office, including the worst recession in generations, Labour does not seem kind or benevolent.  Gordon Brown's lack of popularity and failure to connect with voters does not help them. He does not embody the narrative that Labour wants. These counter-stories overwhelm Labour's attempts to get messages across. And voters are still not receiving clear, substantive messages from the Conservatives about what they would do if they win, the positive alternative they offer.  

The Liberal Democrats do better on the fiscal detail and their story has strong, plausible characters - the old parties who are both as bad as each other.  But warnings of  "wasted votes" are, as always, a powerful counter-story.  And the Lib Dems can't finish the story with a happy ending, so long as the politics of a hung parliament are so unpredictble and intractable.

It's going to be a fascinating campaign.



Posted via web from Neil Stockley

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