Do you remember what the news was like during the 1980s? (And I’m envious if you just say you’re too young to know!). Back then, economic figures – the monthly inflation figures, the latest unemployment rate, the new balance of payment figures and others – all featured regularly as major stories in the main news bulletins.
For a long time now they tend to feature only occasionally in the news – but the recent turbulence in the world’s financial markets have seen financial and economic news back in the headlines repeatedly.
I’m not a financial commentator – so I’m not going to try to predict where the financial markets will go next – but there are two issues around the political impact I’ll mention.
First – the big drops in pension fund values will heighten many people’s sense of insecurity about the future. Even if they recover, there will be an extra level of worry that it might happen again, or happen worse. If you’re caught out retiring when pension fund values are on a down, it’s not much consolation to know that people who retire in future years will probably end up benefiting from long term growth in values. It’s your pension, here and now, that matters most.
And for the many people who don’t have adequate pension schemes – the choppy news is, I think, likely to be put some people off thinking about saving or saving more for a pension – which is bad news too.
Helping to give people a sense of security and control about their financial future may creep up the political agenda again. I don’t think it’s just about pensions – it’s also about simplifying things like the horrendous complicated tax credit and benefit systems, so people can feel they have an understanding of what is happening, and a sense of control over their financial fate. It will also make it more important for parties to feature the economy in their pitches to the public (a subject I’ve written about recently for Liberator magazine).
Second – if we’re facing a period of financial instability, that makes calling a general election a bit riskier. You are the PM. You are ahead in the polls. You call and election – and then what happens if there is a lurch downwards or a new crisis during the middle of a campaign?
So perhaps the events of the last few days make an October election a bit less likely. But best to be prepared – so I’m still making sure we’ll be ready in my constituency, even if that preparation is now slightly less likely to be needed. Much better to be over-prepared than to be caught out by surprise!