Thursday, 26 April 2012

Perceptions and realities

The government has had a bad time since the Budget and much of it has been of their own making.  Whatever the justification for increasing the tax on pasties or equalising personal allowances freezing them for pensioners until the rest of us catch up, and there certainly is justification, the ways in which both issues were handled has been a public relations disaster.  The petrol fiasco was entirely of the government’s making.  Again whatever the justification for the government planning for a strike and it would be a poor government that did not put contingency plans in place just in case, the message that individuals should fill up their jerry cans and store them in their garages was crass stupidity and, whatever the government says, led to panic buying on a massive scale.  Pasties, pensioners and petrol all give the impression that the government is not simply slipping up on banana skins but actually putting the banana skins down themselves.  The electorate can accept a government that puts forward difficult measures, they may not like them but are generally prepared to accept them.  But a government that has become the butt of widespread public ridicule and gives the impression of being helpless and hopeless, rapidly loses any popular legitimacy.  If people think that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are ‘two posh boys who don’t known the price of milk’, then it becomes very difficult to put forward serious solutions to our undoubted problems. 

The experience of past governments clearly suggest that if a government sinks so low in public esteem then it is extremely difficult for it to recover.  This happened to John Major in the mid-1990s and Gordon Brown after 2009 and both lost the next general election.  In both cases, there was also a widespread belief that their policies would not resolve prevailing economic problems, despite a recovering economy in 1997 and the situation is now far worse than it was in 1997 or 2010.  The problem for the present government is that their deficit reduction plans and economic policies are perceived not to be working.  Economic growth, promised from its outset, has not occurred and now that we are in a double-dip recession, achieving the growth essential to economic recovery.  So not only is the government seen as laughable by many, it appears that the wheels have fallen off of its economic plans and, as they have consistently stated ‘there is no plan B’. 

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