Peter Hoskin

Will a downturn help or hinder Brown?

Will a downturn help or hinder Brown?
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Although they look at it from different angles, I think that James Forsyth and Daniel Finkelstein have both identified one of the most interesting political questions of 2008 – will an economic downturn boost or deflate support for Brown’s Government? Contrary to James, Finkelstein claims in an article today that the gathering economic storm-clouds will be good news for the Prime Minister:

“The understanding that global forces are at work helps the government rather than hinders it.  The refusal to credit politicians turns into a reluctance to blame them.  Most polls seem to suggest that voters will not regard this Government as responsible for the downturn ….  A global downturn also brings into a play one of the strongest forces in human affairs - risk aversion.  A fashionable area of economic research is the exploration of the way that people make decisions under uncertainty.  Repeated experiments demonstrate our reluctance to accept a bargain with an uncertain payoff rather than another bargain with a more certain, but possibly lower, expected payoff.  When faced with a choice between the devil they know - Gordon Brown - and the devil they don't - David Cameron - voters may prefer to stick with Mr Brown.”

For myself, it largely comes down to how well Brown can dupe the public into thinking that Northern Rock had nothing to do with the Government.  He’s already begun the offensive on this matter, but – as Peter Riddell suggests, in a must-read article – there are strong signs that the campaign isn’t working. 

However, Brown has time on his side.  The decision not to call a general election last October means that Britain will most-likely have ridden out  the worst of the credit crunch by the time the next election does come around.  Then Brown can – and almost certainly will – claim credit for both the light at the end of the tunnel and for getting Britain through the tunnel in the first place.