In 1980 Ronald Reagan was elected President after asking the Americans if they were better off after four years of President Carter. The Labour leader Ed Miliband is evidently hoping to copy this technique in the British General Election in 2015.
It may not be quite as effective fro Mr Miliband. One difference was that when President Carter was elected in 1976 the US economy was growing fast – 5.4 per cent in that year. Nobody can claim that David Cameron and George Osborne inherited a golden economic legacy.
There was a general understanding that in the UK in 2010 we were living beyond our means, that some belt tightening was required. There is the paradox that if further belt tightening is judged to be necessary then voters will be less inclined to trust Labour.
Furthermore we don’t know what the answer will be regarding our standard of living in 2015 compared to five years earlier. We don’t know how fast the economy will grow between now and May 2015. The only thing we can rely on is that the forecasts will be wrong.
There will then by another complication, even whenn we arrive in 2015, over different ways of measuring it. We got a taste for this in the newspapers this morning with reports of some gloomy projections from the Institute of Fiscal Studies. They have broadly backed Labour’s estimate, that even with some expected economic growth, we will be six per cent worse off in 2015 than in 2010 that is about £1,600. However another measure of household disposable income, favoured by Mr Osborne, suggests we are already 3.9 per cent better off that in 2008, the pre recession peak.
We can all try to get stuck in to make sense of these figures. Sometimes they can be perverse. For example if an unemployed person gets a low paid job their income goes up. However the impact they have on average wages is to reduce them. Yet the unemployed finding work does not really mean that those already in work have lower wages.
The next General Election will not be decided by the statisticians. In an age of growing scepticism individuals will make their own judgment about their circumstances and their prospects. The Conservatives should get on with doing a lot more to reduce tax and regulation to help boost growth. Simplifying the tax system is a mission that the Chancellor has yet to develop much interest in. It is an example of a change that could ease the burden on the private sector without reducing his coffers.
Whether people will be, or feel, better off in 2015 is not yet clear. But the Conservatives should strive to deliver more and boast less.