Speaking on the Andrew Neil Show, George Osborne (the former Chancellor) argued that Prime Minister Questions ‘was like a sort of rewind’ back to the time when he was in front line politics alongside David Cameron. Some heralded it as a return to boring, with two serious, sensible individuals debating government policy, in a far cry from Johnsonian bluster and Trussian ineptitude.
There are other things too that seem to signify a return to normality. The Conservative Party, for now, seems relatively united and they certainly rallied in great numbers behind Rishi Sunak’s successful leadership bid. Familiar faces have returned to the Cabinet, such as Michael Gove, Dominic Raab and Oliver Dowden. Visualising the Cabinet, it was also composed of a similar structure to the Cabinets of old. A ‘Team of Rivals’, ‘the Big Beasts’ in the shape of Penny Mordaunt, Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch, all having recently stood in a Conservative leadership election.
Crucially, there is substantial polling that also reminds me of a previous era. Members of the public were asked who they trusted most on the economy and “a Conservative Government led by Rishi Sunak” won by 4 points. Now 4 points may seem measly, and it is, but in the context of a falling pound, rising inflation and the car crash of Liz Truss’ economics experiment, it is significant.
Even in their depths of despair, the Conservatives are still trusted more than Labour on the economy, despite the fact that Labour have a former Bank of England economist as their Shadow Chancellor. Keir Starmer must be wondering what he needs to do for the public to trust him with their finances.
Why is this so important? Because, since 1990 (and I suspect significantly further back than that) every time a British political party has been more trusted on the economy, they have won the election.
There is no doubt that Prime Minister Sunak has a seriously tough journey ahead to retain that lead, especially with rising taxes, inflation, interest rates and a £50billion black hole that will undoubtedly lead to spending cuts. Yet, if energy prices fall quickly, which could be likely, and the British economy starts to recover in the next couple of years (at which point Sunak may well be able to cut taxes), the Tories could be heading into the election with a growing economy and a chance of pulling off an unlikely electoral triumph.
Now I realise how hypothetical this all is, particularly given that Keir Starmer has been able to restore credibility to the Opposition. However, one problem that Labour have is that they have not articulated an optimistic vision for what they want the future of the UK to be. Anyway, that’s for another column!