I am beginning to think I was wrong about the current Conservative government. I thought that after their pre-election boom they would go back to austerity politics and as a result the economy would slow up and they would quickly become very unpopular. I also thought they would split quickly and very badly over Brexit and that would add to their unpopularity.
The poll results, the economic data and the recent bi-election results show that I was wrong. May's government is not yet widely unpopular. In fact the reverse. When I talk to ordinary people who don't have politics as their main interest she is getting significant support.
There is are a number of important reasons for this. The first and most important reason is the Brexit referendum. We are not dealing with a government two years in. We are dealing with a new government in its honeymoon period. A lot of people got very scared by the utter chaos that threatened to follow Brexit. The country lost its Prime Minister, the Chancellor, and the main leaders of the Brexit campaign within a week of the vote and it looked like it might be some time before we had stable leadership and a settled direction.
Then 'Mother' Theresa stepped in. By the simple, and very effective, device of saying and doing very little throughout the Brexit campaign she managed to position herself as the one person who could offer stable united government. Never under-estimate the importance for most people of having a Prime Minister that appears to know what she or he is doing. Most people don't want to live in politically interesting times. They want their leader to be competent and professional and then they are happy to leave it to that leader to get on with all that boring politics stuff whilst they live their lives. They also want the economy to be well run and successful.
On this count May has proved very lucky in her early days in government. Because of Brexit she had to row back on austerity. Because of Brexit the Bank of England printed even more money and pumped it into the economy. Because of Brexit the pound fell and gave something of a boost to many employers. The combination of those factors has left us with a growing economy and low unemployment and the appearance of an end to the dire misery of endless austerity. It has also done exactly what many of us predicted ending austerity would do. It has eased the national debt problem as the government gets better revenues and pays out less. People are therefore hopeful that the grey years may be over and are happy to vote for the politicians who they think have delivered this.
There is only one small problem with all of this good news for saint Theresa. It is highly unlikely to last. The grey years aren't over. There are a raft of very serious economic problems out there and they could very well be about to get steadily more serious. If anything goes wrong with the economy in the run up to Brexit she will quickly become very unpopular indeed with all those people who are currently giving her the benefit of the doubt.
So far the overblown predictions of immediate and drastic dire results from Brexit haven't materialised and that has undermined the credibility of those of us who campaigned honestly for Remain. Yet the damaging outcomes were never going to come quickly. We are now about to move from theory of Brexit to practice. That is when the damage slowly starts to become more and more obvious.
No one knows what the UK's relationship will be with the EU in two years time. No one knows what trade deals we will have signed with other nations - if any. We do know that we have a government that is quite prepared to leave the EU single market if it doesn't get the deal it wants. We also know such a deal is highly unlikely. Any sensible business must therefore start preparing for customs paperwork and customs charges between the EU and the UK. That alone is bound to hit investment. So is uncertainty which is the one thing we can now be sure of. Low investment almost always hits jobs and prosperity. So it is highly likely that the economy will start to slow. Every day that we get nearer to Brexit without a clearly beneficial deal emerging will also damage May.
Then there is the small problem that every interest group in the country has a different vision of what is going to happen post Brexit. Every time she announces exactly what policies she intends to adopt someone is going to be seriously disappointed. Voters have been promised that problems will melt away and we'll enter a new era of prosperity and happiness. As soon as the actual reality of British policy emerges a lot of people are going to get very cross indeed. If you over promise then you can only under deliver and when you under deliver you don't win elections.
Then there is the issue of austerity. The budget cuts to services like the NHS were back loaded by Cameron and Osborne. They put much tougher things into the end of the budget cycle than they did into the beginning on the simple principle of kick the can far enough down the road and it will no longer be an unsightly mess on your own doorstep. It now turns out they were right. They don't have to deal with the mess. May does. The damage done by those service cuts is going to start to kick in ever more drastically. That can only generate an increase in people blaming the government of the day.
Finally there is the problem of inflation and of the impossible position the Bank of England now finds itself in. When an economy slows you normally expect the central bank to be able to take action to try and counteract that. They can no longer do that. They have exhausted all their ammunition. Interest rates are near zero. So interest rate cuts are finished as an effective option. The pound has fallen so far and import costs are rising so fast that it is no longer possible to carry on printing pounds. The days of pumping over £400 billion of free money into the banking system are therefore also over. So is the option of letting consumer borrowing rip. The economy has continued to grow primarily because consumer borrowing has risen and therefore spending has increased. Those debts cannot continue to rise for ever and as soon as consumers cut back on borrowing the economy will stop growing.
So a Conservative win in one bi-election isn't any clue as to what will happen in the next General Election. May can only win that election if she goes into it with a popular Brexit deal and a growing economy. Since 48% of people thought Brexit would be a mistake there are a lot of people around who are all too willing to vote against a government that produces a bad deal. If anything at all goes wrong with the UK economy there will be a lot more people looking to punish a Prime Minister who told us she had it all sorted.
Gordon Brown was at the height of his popularity when he told us he had put an end to boom and bust. 'Mother' Theresa is currently at the height of hers because she has convinced a lot of people that she can deliver them a safe and secure future. Her fall from grace could be every bit as drastic.
I suggest you do not despair too much over high Conservative poll ratings and one bi-election win. Three years is a long time in politics!