Dominic Raab is the Member of Parliament for Esher & Walton.
Yet when Reagan honed this line against Jimmy Carter in
1980, he was asking voters whether they felt more secure, who they trusted to
ensure America’s best days lay ahead – not just to conduct a household
inventory. Reagan played on deeper anxieties, citing high unemployment, double-digit inflation,
interest rates over 15 per cent – compounded by the foreign policy fiascos of the
Iranian Embassy siege and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
conditions don’t chime with Britain today. The 2015 UK election is more
like the US campaign of 2012 than 1980, when Mitt Romney tried and failed to
copy Reagan. Like Britain now, US unemployment was just under eight per cent, but Obama could
point to substantial jobs growth to argue the economy was on the right track.
Likewise, voters blame Bush and Brown for the economic mess Obama and Cameron inherited.
As for confidence abroad, Cameron will take credit for extricating British
troops from Afghanistan, and more still for sticking the occasional two fingers
up at the European Union. Where Romney failed to regain lost Republican trust, Miliband
faces a similar battle.
Nor is Labour’s ‘cost of living’ attack a sure bet. Voters
today are better off than they were in 2010 on many measures. Where they’re
not, Labour policies risk making matters worse. Reagan focused on unemployment.
Mark Carney, the new Governor of the Bank of England – whose appointment Labour
lauded – ensured it remains central to economic debate here, by signalling we
need 750,000 more jobs before interest rates rise to curb inflation. Who’s best placed to deliver that? Unemployment
today is lower than in May 2010. More private sector jobs were created in just two
years of coalition than after a decade under Labour.
Carney’s strategy carries real risks, but it keeps interest
rates low, easing pressure on those with debt and blunting Labour’s opportunity
to play on high inflation – which at 2.8 per cent is less than the 3.4 per cent inherited from
Gordon Brown anyway. All this hems Miliband in. Treasury Ministers have already
totted up the cost of new Labour policies at close to £3,000 of debt for every
working family. It’s difficult to see how Labour can offer free childcare or a
jobs guarantee – as trailed – and pass muster as a credible custodian of the
nation’s fragile finances.
Nor is tax fairness the Tory blind spot Labour salivates over.
Last year, those earning £10-15,000 per year paid a quarter less tax than in
Labour’s last year of office – while those earning over £1million paid a
quarter more. But don’t people feel
worse off? Some may, because household debt remains precariously high. But, that’s
a cul-de-sac for Labour too: household debt rocketed from 70 per cent of gross domestic
product in 1997 to 109 per cent in 2009, receding to 98 per cent today.
Presumably, Miliband has other cards up his sleeve. The New
Statesman reckons he will promise to reinstate the spare room subsidy. That’s
lunacy. It’s one thing to carp at transitional disruption caused by cutting
housing benefit for those with unused spare bedrooms, another altogether to reintroduce
a rule that couples financial profligacy with moral short-sightedness. Why,
with long housing lists, wouldn’t any government prioritise according to need? As
for housing stock, the coalition has built more affordable housing every year than
Labour did in any.
Miliband also flirts with wealth taxes. But he knows that, to
raise meaningful revenue, they would wallop the middle classes and hurt the
recovery. Equally, turning lofty talk of ‘pre-distribution of wealth’ into
tangible policies is every bit as hard as it sounds. Legislating for a living
wage or banning zero-hours contracts would deter firms from hiring – bringing
Labour into conflict with Carney’s jobs target.
Miliband’s most resonant attack was carving a distinction
between capitalism’s predators and producers – singling out energy companies
and banks. But, their monopolistic grip tightened under Labour. It was Miliband
as Energy Secretary who pioneered the arbitrary green subsidies inflating
energy bills, while Chris Bryant’s mouth-footed attempt to flay Next and
Tesco's for hiring foreign workers just reminds the country how lax Labour were
Miliband’s new slogan is: ‘David Cameron is out of touch,
you are out of pocket’. If that’s all he’s got, voters may reasonably conclude
Labour is out of ideas.