Modern politics is all about framing. Due to decades of public skepticism towards politicians, party leaders no longer wish to be seen as dogmatic ideologues, they would much rather be thought of as pragmatic managers of public life. So instead of trying to explain their strategy once in power, the ultimate aim of 21st century political communication is to establish the differences between yourself and your opponent in way that wont scare the readers of the Daily Mail. This week it was the turn of Ed Miliband to try to define the 2015 election.
With the popularity of the coalition flatlining, it's worth wondering why he would even bother. Even after David Cameron appeased the Ukip hoards with his promise of a referendum before using the resulting leverage to negotiate an unprecedented reduction in the EU budget, his party are still competing for trust with Tesco's half-price beef burgers.
However in times of economic and political uncertainty party leaders must prepare for the unpredictable. After all, Cameron himself had a similar lead in the polls, months before the 2010 election, only to end up having to ask for Nick Clegg's permission to take power. And while the deputy prime minister remains politically toxic, his treasury spokesman is quite the opposite and the sudden ascent of Vince Cable could bring disaffected Liberal Democrat votes home, making Labour's 12-point lead appear as fragile as the one Kevin Keegan had in 1996.
So how would Ed Miliband ideally like the public to view the next general election? The answer, it seems, is though the prism of living standards and as far 2015 goes it's looking to be a pretty safe bet. The cost of rent and fuel, among other essentials, are rising much faster then wages, leaving middle and working class families less well off year on year. Miliband will loudly and repetitively echo the words of Ronald Reagan by asking votes if they are personally better of then they were five years ago and for most of us the answer will be no.
Politically, this is easy capital. The coalition will, in all likelihood, continue down the path of austerity. Despite mounting evidence of an economic dead-end, they will press on, too embarrassed to turn back or even ask for directions. Meanwhile life will become increasingly difficult for the majority of the British public as they work harder while effectively becoming poorer. Ed Miliband might be perceived as a political vacuum, but with such limited public faith in David Cameron, the electorate will be half-heartedly sucked into the ideological black hold of 'One Nation Labour' even if the final destination is a scientific mystery.
However, once elected Miliband's arsenal may quickly become an albatross hung about his neck as the nations living standards continue to stagnate. Because for all the bluster surrounding government policy, taxes and budgets, our elected leaders have a disturbingly small amount of influence over the direction of the global economy. Last August, an unsettling paper by Robert Gordon of Northwest University predicted that not only was worldwide human innovation (the source of much of the past's economic growth) slowing down dramatically but that even if it somehow recuperated, trends including (but not limited to) ageing demographics, increasing inequality and our deteriorating environment, would almost certainly impede the prospect of any long term growth. On top of everything else that long term growth would in itself depend on finding a new means of post-industrial economic growth that is both safer and more reliable then the one that is built on investment banking. Because as Antonio Cavaciuti, an Italian business journalist, told me over a cup of tea last week, "People need to understand that not only is our last period of growth over, it never actually existed."
In America the recession appears to have passed it's peak while the worse may too be over for the Eurozone, meaning we may see a very modest economic recovery in the later half of the decade. Despite this, living standards will take a very long time to recover to what they once were (if they ever do) as both the middle class and their disposable incomes diminish. It is for this reasons that attempting to bribe the electorate with promises of evening out the decline in living standards with minor political measures like the 10p tax and the mansion tax, as well intentioned as they are, may prove to be an unsustainable political cul-de-sac. This is not to say that progressive politics has become futile, just that it wont be enough to merely tinker round the edges of our dysfunctional economy. If Labour wants the future to be as fair and as fruitful as the past it will have to involve measures far more ambitious and it might even have to scare the readers of the Daily Mail.
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