In these “difficult times” which Gordon Brown thinks are the biggest change since the industrial revolution (p.s. he is wrong!), who can best lead the economy may well decide the next election. After ten years as chancellor and one as prime minister, Brown may take the blame for the economy, or he may be seen as a safe, experienced choice.
But the Tories, if they are going to win, need to reverse the swing to Brown following the Labour conference, and for that they need answers on the economy. I am no economist and tend to focus on consitutional issues, small state etc, but I know that is not where the election will be settled. If this downturn continues, all people will want is more money to spend on food, rent and other essentials. The famous phrase “it’s the economy, stupid” is truest when times are hard.
So Cameron, and more importantly George Osborne, need to come out fighting and sound serious, confident and knowledgable on the economy. They may not need detailed proposals (difficult without looking at the books) but they need to show they have a grasp of the issues, and a framework to solve, or at least soften the blow of, any crisis.
Alistair Darling is not making himself heard as chancellor, most people still look at Brown as the one in charge of the economy as well as the country. Cameron and Osborne are both young and risk looking lightweight next to the big, clunking fist. I doubt Cameron would drop his close friends for a big hitter (John Redwood is well versed in economic issues, for example) so it is up to Osborne to prove he is up to the job.
It was his inheritance tax break that made headlines, and poll ratings, at the last Tory conference. It should be again the Shadow Chancellor’s speech that has the big ideas. Brown has a let off for now from internal wranglings, but in Birmingham the Conservatives can put him back on the back foot before the upcoming by-election in Glenrothes.
But to do that it is not David Cameron, so much as George Osborne, who needs to step up and show the country the Tories have more to offer than not being Labour.