New Labour persuaded the British public that the economy would be safe in their hands. From that time, two centuries of Conservative certainty about its own identity came to an abrupt end.
Some people now wonder whether economics has lost its potency as a political issue. First, they say that it is no longer a discriminator between the parties because Labour is also now a ‘prudent’, ‘sound’ party. Second, they say that economics is no longer the prime issue because the world has changed. Then they say that the 1997 election result proves their case – all the economic indicators were positive: interest rates and inflation and unemployment were at record lows; yet the Conservatives lost.
But Conservatives must not be led astray by those who study economic facts. Instead, as Aristotle would have advised, they should understand economic perceptions. For history shows that only one thing between the 1997 election defeat and the four election victories that preceded it: the perception of the parties’ relative economic competence. That made all the difference.
The Conservative Party recognises the romance of economics; it sees ‘the elevation of the condition of the people’ as its core purpose. In understanding this truth about themselves, the Conservative Party will rediscover its identity as the true party of economic competence and so, once again, find secure and lasting happiness.