Given the dizzying array of data published in recent weeks it must be difficult for the average voter to make sense of what the reality is.
In every election voters are asked to make their decision based on the economic record of the incumbent – in this case a coalition – government or that offered by an alternative party.
That political parties use data that’s favourable to them is hardly surprising.
It’s no coincidence how much significance the economy has assumed.
In 2010, two years after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the coalition government came to power five years with a promise to eliminate the deficit that had been created by the need to save us from the utter catastrophe caused by the profligate lending of banks.
Though things were pretty grim five years ago there were glimmers of economic recovery due to interventions made labour’s Alistair Darling.
Having won the election the Darling approach was abandoned by the Conservative chancellor George Osborne, and supported by LibDem’s Danny Alexander, in favour of policies explicitly intended to achieve recovery through austerity.
Five years the data would suggest that austerity has worked.
The British economy is now consistently growing; by 2.8% in 2014.
Jobs are being created at an average of 1000 a day throughout the last parliament.
Depending on how it is measured we are informed that we are better off now than in May 2010.
What is really intriguing about the election campaign is that the Conservatives and LibDems simultaneously argue that it was their influence that deserves credit.
In a week of manifesto launches it’s the future that concerns most voters very few of whom will have bothered to read the small print.
The line from the Conservatives is that the long-term economic plan is working and, as Conservative leader David Cameron told us that under his party we’d enjoy ‘The Good Life’ just so long as we ensure sufficient austerity to pay off the £1.5 trillion of debt that currently exists.
Both major parties have committed to tackling this debt that costs almost a billion pounds a week in interest; just in different ways.
In an age of ‘sound-bites’ ensuring that your narrative is the one that is heard is all that counts.
And what is so frustrating is the way in which the narrative so dominates the debate to the exclusion of facts.
Once the magnitude of the GFC became apparent the priority of all governments, including labour, was saving the banks whose lending got us into the problem in the first place followed by injections of money, so called “QE” (Quantitative Easing).
Though GDP has pretty much returned to the rate it was before the GFC it is worth remembering that recovery took longer than it needed to have as a result of the coalition seeing that the austerity approach of the first couple of years was undermining economic growth.
What would be a much fairer statement by the Conservative and LibDems would be that the Alistair Darling’s long-term economic plan is working.
What is worrying is that David Cameron and George Osborne offer a return to an even more extreme form of austerity than that which was implemented at the beginning of the last parliament.
Have they learnt that this is not what has achieved the current recovery though many on ‘zero hours’ contracts and those whose living standards have declined since 2010 may beg to differ?
Worryingly when you look at the data the basis of growth is illusory and far too reliant on consumption of goods produced overseas though the continued closure of shops in the high street would suggest otherwise.
Unless wages go up dramatically and inflation remains extremely low household debt will increase; personal indebtedness stands at over £1.4 trillion and the OBR (Office of Budget Responsibility) predict that by 2019 household debt to income will have returned to pre-GFC levels.
Other problems have not been fully addressed in the election campaign.
One is the productivity puzzle.
As many commentators are asking, how can we produce more unless we invest more in a way that allows increased rates of production to rival our competitors who can sell more cheaply?
By making things that can be sold abroad – which local manufacturers have shown is possible – is the only way to address the external trade deficit of £2.9 billion (equal to 5.5% of GDP) which is the largest import-export shortfall for almost 70 years.
What we have seen is that companies are putting off making decisions until we have greater certainty which, given the way this election is going, will probably not be likely on May 8.
Additionally we have the problem of how we can expect to fund the NHS which, whatever is argued, has, realistically, no hope of making the savings through productivity that have been suggested by some as possible.
The NHS is already a ‘black hole’ that swallows phenomenal amounts of expenditure.
An increasingly ageing population means that this problem simply gets bigger.
Whatever happens domestically events abroad will have a huge influence on our economy.
Oil prices have risen some 40% since the low experienced in January reflecting increased uncertainty in the Middle East.
Greece leaving the EU with all the attendant consequences for this organisation of countries, still our biggest export market, looks like an increasingly possibility.
The desire for emerging economies such as India and China to replace the EU as a destination for exports won’t happen soon.
Indeed, the slowdown in China’s growth shows that any reliance on such economies is fraught with danger.
It’s therefore not surprising that the latest survey carried by the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce contained data indicating reduced confidence among business.
At the launch of the latest quarterly figures at RBS’s office in Brindley Place there was discussion about what needs to be done locally.
An issue addressed was the lack of housing which, as Liam Halligan of The Telegraph wrote recently, is crucial:
“Every post-war UK recovery has been associated with a surge in house building, boosting the construction industry and providing affordable homes for aspirational families, while absorbing immigrant workers.”
Some commentators are suggesting that there is a real danger that the recent improvements could be wiped out.
Though the suggestion by Albert Edwards who is a strategist at Société Générale that the UK economy resembles a “ticking timebomb” ready to go off after the election on May 7 would appear somewhat alarmist he’s not alone in expressing concern.
Whichever government assumes power after the general election on May 7 urgently needs to engage in radical thinking and solutions.
In all the hullabaloo of what is an extremely sterile and stage-managed election campaign by all parties it doesn’t feel like the realities are being considered properly.
It’s no wonder most people feel decidedly underwhelmed by the election so far.
UK voters deserve better.