The latest unemployment figures were released this morning, and they reveal some timely good news for the government. The total out of work fell by 35,000, taking the percentage unemployed down from 8.4% to 8.3%.
With the first Prime Minister’s Questions since the Easter recess to come later, the news will no doubt allow David Cameron to draw some of the sting from Ed Miliband’s attacks. A strong showing at PMQs would please the party faithful and warrant some fleeting praise from the media. However, this sort of short-term thinking may be the very problem Cameron’s government is facing.
This morning Nick Clegg told the Today programme that “People get absolutely swept up by some specific issues” but “you have to look at the big picture”. A fair point perhaps; yes the government has made some mistakes, but people need to take a broader view at the vision this coalition has for the country.
Only, just three days ago Clegg conceded in another interview: “I totally accept that it's a legitimate criticism that when you are involved in the day-to-day scrum of government ... that what can get lost is the narrative, the hymn sheet ... the song that inspires and lifts people's sights.”
If the government itself is struggling to find, let alone present, the bigger picture, then how on earth can the public be expected to look at it?
Clegg’s contradictions are significant. First he admitted that the government was failing to present the “song that inspires and lift people’s sights”, then when he attempted to suggest one all he could come up with was that this government has “pulled back this country from the brink” by reducing the deficit. Setting aside the fact that it is at best highly questionable to label Britain’s economic position in 2010 ‘on the brink’, it says it all that in searching for a narrative to encourage people to look ahead, the deputy prime minister has had to hark back to a line from the government’s earliest days.
It is to be celebrated that today’s figures showed a surprising decrease in unemployment, but as Clegg urges we should not allow ourselves to be “swept up” by the appeal of short-termism. Labour holds its strongest poll lead of this parliament, and the Lib Dems find themselves trailing UKIP. If the government are to turn things around they need to work out exactly what the ‘big picture’ they’re selling us is before they expect us to buy it. If they can’t, then by 2015 Clegg and co may just have to pull themselves back from the brink.