John Woodcock: Coalition needs to address basics

When uncertainty over the economy overwhelmingly dominates the political debate, the steady slide in the Government's reputation for economic competence will cause David Cameron and George Osborne profound alarm.

John Woodcock: Coalition needs to address basics
John Woodcock: Coalition needs to address basics

Both have apologised publicly for failing to present their policies properly. But this is an administration that is being dragged down by the basic GDP numbers that show the country failing to return to growth.

Deep down, the pair are canny enough to know that any government comms drive cannot defy gravity: editors no longer prepared to give ministers the benefit of the doubt are simply reflecting a hardened public mood.

Ed Balls has repeatedly urged ministers to 'jump-start' the economy. But with the Queen's Speech criticised for being wafer thin, commentators are understandably asking whether the Government's programme has sufficient energy to inject life into anything.

The many strategists who apparently insist on being room meat during meetings of 'the quad' (Cameron, Osborne, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander) must realise they are trapped by the Government's refusal to signal a change of course on imposing a brand of austerity that is demonstrably not working. That is certainly what has happened this week. Cameron's attempts to stress the importance of keeping the eurozone together were dismissed as lecturing from the sidelines and only served to highlight the way he has managed to marginalise himself from all of Europe's major players.

Likewise, the controversial Beecroft report recommending changes to employment law. It was not helped by the fact its release descended into slapstick, with Liberal Democrat ministers apparently determined to sabotage it before publication. But of greater worry for the Conservatives will have been the level of traction Labour has got for asserting that slashing employment rights is not the answer to the economy's problems.

Steve Hilton's departure has undoubtedly left a hole in Number 10's comms team, but anyone who seeks to fill his shoes should realise there will be little they can do until ministers agree to fix the basics.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown.

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