Coined by political strategist James Carville for the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign, it was a reminder that failure to address economic problems was the most likely reason for voters turning their backs on the ruling party at an election.
Now, Johnson and co do not have their troubles to seek, and voters looking at his party have a veritable smorgasbord of reasons not to re-elect them, not least their rule-breaking party antics at Number 10. Or so one would hope.
But the PM is also famous for his own far less salubrious ‘campaign phrase’ – “f*** business” – and, to give him some credit, out of all his pledges, he has kept his word on that one.
Just this month, we see a whole host of new impediments on imports to the UK and continuing tailbacks galore at Dover and Calais.
Despite the export fiasco of 2021 with an irresponsible lack of preparation and complicated red tape due to the clumsy Brexit transition, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) warned pre-Christmas that only a quarter of small British importers were prepared for these new border controls on imports from the EU.
With an estimated 400,000 small businesses falling foul in 2021 due to the pandemic, the FSB’s call on ministers to re-introduce a revamped version of the SME Brexit Support Fund that closed last summer, with better-thought-through criteria for eligibility and application timeframes, has so far fallen on deaf ears.
In 2022, how many more SME businesses might go by the wayside due to supply chain issues, rules of origin requirements and new import impediments?
It looks like “levelling up” and “Brexit bonuses” are not going according to plan. And not just for business.
The Resolution Foundation calculates that households could face an increase of £1,200 in bills this April due to exorbitant energy rises, record levels of inflation and tax increases, calling 2022 “the year of the squeeze”.
Torsten Bell, the foundation’s chief executive, commented that “so large is this overnight cost-of-living catastrophe that it’s hard to see how the government avoids stepping in”.
And that was before the report from Joseph Rowntree highlighted the 1.8 million children growing up in “deep poverty” in the UK, an appalling and stark reminder of Tory legacy from over ten years in government.
They don’t seem to care that people will have to choose between heating or eating. Other countries like Norway, France, Spain and Italy have promised financial aid to their citizens to help with the coming energy crisis; as usual, the UK remains the outlier, more concerned with the mythology of global Britain and sleight-of-hand sloganeering than actual levelling up.
Boris Johnson might yet survive ‘Partygate’ and his disrespectful rule-breaking bonanza during lockdown; but when voters come to put their ‘X’ in the box, it will be “the economy, stupid” that swings the election pendulum the other way.
Douglas Chapman is the SNP MP for Dunfermline & West Fife