Mark Carney’s been agonising about raising interest rates for a year now. Does the Governor of the Bank of England believe Labour’s got a point when it refers to the cost of living crisis? Does Mr Carney fear that any increase in mortgage rates will be too much for the fragile position of consumers who’ve not had a decent pay rise for years? If Carney believes Ed Miliband is on to something then maybe voters will ask themselves that crucial question next May: Do I feel better off?


I still think David Cameron will be returned as leader of the largest party because this week’s figures show we are now on a sustained path of growth but the honeymoon is over for Mark Carney. He’s beginning to gain a reputation as a ditherer, sending out contradictory messages on when he will raise interest rates.


A year ago Carney’s “forward guidance” was that 7% unemployment was to be the trigger for interest rates to rise. This week unemployment fell to 6.4% down 437,000 in the last year. That’s the biggest fall in unemployment in 25 years. The fall is across the board with the number of long term and young people out of work falling too, yet there is no prospect of an interest rate rise this year. There are fears that if the 0.5% rate is held too long and inflation kicks off, the rise might have to be sharp and damaging to the economy.


It looks as if the failure of wage growth is really worrying the Bank of England. Labour hammers out its message that the average household is £1600 worse off than in 2010. Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980 by asking people that simple question about whether they were better off under President Carter. The question is now associated with an almost mythical potency to win elections.


Labour points to inflation running at 1.9% with pay increases at 0.6%, the lowest since 2001 when records began. How then has consumer spending recovered if people are being squeezed between paltry pay rises and continuing, if modest, inflation?


Some experts point to the growth in house prices which is now beginning to filter through to the north from London. The government’s help to buy scheme may be indirectly driving consumer spending. What happens when the bubble bursts?


So as we take our August holidays we have to make an assessment of who’s message is getting across. Labour’s cost of living crisis or the government’s view. That is that they have turned round the economy and protected the worst off by raising the income tax threshold, frozen fuel prices and acted on council tax and energy bills.



During one of Tony Benn’s great rants against the modernisation of the Labour Party, he forecast that one day delegates to the party conference would be told that they weren’t there to debate issues but merely to blow up balloons for the leader’s triumphal entry.


Benn’s forecast came to my mind as I watched the recent Republican and Democratic conventions. With our version of the conventions, the party conferences, starting this weekend I thought it might be worth comparing the two.


Way back in American convention history, they were the events at which candidates were chosen and policy formed, not any more.


The primary contests which start across America in the previous winter mean that the candidates are known well in advance. The last time a Republican Convention met with any uncertainty about the candidate was in 1976 when Ronald Reagan attempted to wrest the nomination from Gerald Ford. In the Democrats’ case it was Ted Kennedy’s effort to unseat Jimmy Carter in 1980.


This year yet again there was no opportunity for delegates in Tampa, Florida or Charlotte, North Carolina to influence the policy platform. Similarly while there will be debates on policy motions at the Labour conference in Manchester and the Tory gathering in Birmingham, it will only be Liberal Democrat delegates who will actually make policy line by line when they meet in Brighton.


The wives of political leaders are playing a growing role on both sides of the Atlantic. Here we’ve seen Sarah Brown introduce her husband at a Labour conference. Sam Cam is a fixture with the Tories, but they are bit parts compared to the central roles that Anne Romney and Michele Obama played at their conventions this month. Both put on sparkling performances in contrast to the more staid performances of their husbands, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.


Celebrities at party conferences were certainly a feature of the Blair era and many of Hollywood’s finest supported the Democrats this year in Charlotte. The Republicans however scored an own goal with a bizarre rambling performance by the ageing Clint Eastwood. It didn’t make their day.


So what might be coming to our party conferences in the future? The CNN news channel played the party videos shown to the delegates whereas the BBC always cut away when similar screenings are made at our party conferences. The BBC says it isn’t in the business of broadcasting straight party propaganda. That strikes me as odd considering the rest of the conference is just that.


In the American videos we saw the families of the candidates heavily featured. Everyone with a distant relationship to Romney or Obama was interviewed.

Another striking feature was the emphasis on families with relatives serving in the military.


It’s a close race in the US election this year with the Republicans turning up the heat on the economy and Obamacare (the President’s attempt to introduce something like the NHS to America). There is no doubt that the “Yes we can” Obama optimism of four years ago has faded but incumbent Presidents are rarely turned out. Only Jimmy Carter (1980) and HW Bush (1992) have suffered that fate since 1945.


So in 2012 will we just get balloons and stage managed baloney at our conferences? The Liberal Democrats do still have a real policy making conference and all credit to them. Labour needs an honest debate on its economic policy as the party is taken more seriously again and those Tories who really are unhappy with Cameron need to come out of the woodwork. I doubt it will happen.