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What's the big economic idea, George?

By Tim Montgomerie
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The view in Downing Street is that Ed Miliband is unelectable. The YouGov survey in this morning's Sun will encourage Cameron's advisers in that view. Just 4% think the Labour leader would be good in a crisis. Just 5% see him as a natural leader. Only 6% regard Ed Miliband as charismatic. The Sun poll and an ICM survey in The Guardian confirm the conclusion of Lord Ashcroft's mega poll that "Odd Ed" is a real problem for Labour; especially in a head-to-head with David Cameron.

But if the party leader's image is one big factor in deciding voting intentions the other is economic credibility. In this regard the Tories do not need to panic. Ed Balls and Ed Miliband are not seen as trustworthy on the economy. Their ratings have actually fallen over the last year. Nonetheless there is increasing evidence that voters are worried about the cuts. 62% now worry that they are going too fast and too deep when in reality they have hardly begun.

OSBORNE BLUE TIE The Coalition's economic policy has two great weaknesses. Not enough has been done to turbo charge the supply side of the economy. ConHome said this within hours of George Osborne's first budget and we've said it more emphatically on many times since. The biggest issue facing Britain isn't the age of terror or the Arab Spring or the banking crisis. It's the rise of the East. The world doesn't owe us a living and if we don't revolutionise our schools, universities, tax system, public finances, planning laws and welfare benefits we will face not just relative decline but worse. Osborne's growth policies haven't yet risen to the challenge. Not even close. Some of the initiatives - such as the big business hotline - take competitiveness policy in the wrong direction. Just as significantly Osborne's rhetoric hasn't risen to the occasion either. He has never explained where he wants to take the British economy. He has never told us a big story of what will prepare us for a new age of prosperity.

Labour is developing the same narrative that Barack Obama is trailblazing in the USA. I say trailblazing but it's actually been the narrative of big government politicians since the 1970s. The solution to our problems is, they say, a more interventionist state and higher taxes on the wealthy. There is also a streak of populism in what Ed Miliband will unveil this week. He is promising to champion the consumers of train and energy companies. In a time of rising prices that might be potent.

George Osborne's deficit reduction plan is largely in jeopardy because of global economic circumstances beyond his control. As David Brooks recently reminded us: there's only so much any government can do at a time of economic crisis. Nonetheless Osborne needs to convince the nation that he has a plan and that it involves a lot more than cuts and buddy hotlines. His German model, as I've described it, provides the beginnings of that message. In Manchester next week he needs to set it out.

> On Comment today Charlie Elphicke MP calls for empowerment of the small business engine of the economy.


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