Published on 31 Dec 2010
Not happy but tough.
The New Year messages from party leaders provided agreement across the political spectrum: in 2011, success and happiness will be directly related to the economy.
The Prime Minister David Cameron's focus on the need to reduce the budget deficit came with a repeat prescription for a strong dose of tough medicine as the only way to cure our economic ills. If we follow his prescription to reduce spending sufficiently and decisively, he predicts 2011 will be the year Britain gets back on its feet.
As the deepest dividing line between the Coalition Government and the Labour Party, the speed and scale of public spending cuts is the hottest political issue. Labour leader, Ed Miliband, seized the opportunity to attack the Coalition for a programme of cuts born of political choice and not necessity. The public, increasingly con cerned at the looming potential disaster of job losses and cuts to public services with increased costs for food and fuel and the rise in VAT, cannot be blamed for losing patience with this political point-scoring.
Neither Mr Miliband's charge that the government's deficit reduction plan is irresponsible nor Mr Cameron's counterclaim to be the responsible antidote to Labour's profligacy will do anything to restore public confidence in politicians. Following the expenses scandal, public trust remains in abeyance pending a convincing demonstration that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats working together in coalition can produce their promised new politics and that the Labour Party has not only a new leader but a new responsiveness to the electorate. Mr Miliband's resolution to show that the cuts are due to political choice by those in power not necessity risks miring us all in groundhog day.
The independent Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts growth in the economy in 2011 and a further rise in 2012. For a prime minister who says he did not come into politics to make cuts, that ought to provide a little leeway to protect the most vulnerable and for his partners in coalition to exert some leverage.
In Scotland, Alex Salmond used his pre-election New Year message as a rallying call for Scotland to seize economic independence but sidestepped the most immediate economic challenges. The warning of a generation and more of continued cutbacks in our public services looks further into the future than most economists are prepared to do. Such a long term view is necessary, however, to make the case for the First Minister's conviction that Scotland can be the green powerhouse of Europe, generating wealth by renewable energy.
May's inconclusive General Election result was a vote of limited approval for both approaches to the economy. With the arrival of a New Year in which there is an election for the Scottish Parliament, it is time for politicians to stop reliving old battles and spell out positive policies to address the new economic reality. 2011 must be the year when politicians make boosting the economy their priority.