It seems that in conceding that the national economic debate was lost and that the coalition’s philosophy was here for good, I may have joined many in being too pessimistic too soon. Cameron and Osborne are not for turning, but it may not be up to them much longer. It looks increasingly possible that a mood is developing which could finally facilitate the axing of austerity. A coup could be in the works.
First, the public seems to have finally shaken off the silly notion that this pain they are suffering is essential, courageous medicine. As of today, a poll indicates only one in five still back this futile self-flagellation. In contrast, three in five believe that austerity is causing harm. Even Conservative voters are split fifty-fifty. Many more polls like this and Westminster will start taking note.
Meanwhile, Cable is growing bolder in his blatant opposition to current fiscal policy. His fellow Cabinet ministers, even on the Conservative side, are losing discipline and opposing cuts contrary to their own departmental interests. The triple A downgrade still lingers in the memory. Theresa May, it seems, is already slowly sowing the seeds for a future leadership bid. And as The Guardian reported last Saturday, UKIP’s emergence in the Eastleigh by-election is creating anxious bums on the Tory backbenches. It would take only 15% of the Conservative parliamentary party to force a leadership contest and make this government self-implode.
When you add to that the embarrassment of the OBR publicly rebuking Cameron’s lie late last week, insisting that they do and always did grant that austerity harms growth, you can start to share my hunch that there are green shoots to be grabbed here.
Who knows what the fallout would look like if they were grabbed. The coalition has in principle locked itself in for a five year term, but if the PM is ousted it’s hard to imagine a new regime lasting two years. And yet both coalition parties will, clearly, have a strong interest in avoiding a return to the polls any time soon. Both could get ready for a beating.
But it’s not like the alternative is any better. Economic sense has finally infected the electorate. It seems inevitable now that it will have to seep up to Downing Street at some point.
(Graph via Krugman).