Some fascinating economic research by Ipsos Mori, published today, shows that George Osborne is the least popular chancellor in nearly a decade, with net approval ratings of -33. Nobody has had such bad ratings since Ken Clarke in the early 1990s.
At first sign this is unsurprising: this is the first recession we’ve had since the early 1990s (if you take 2008-now as one recession). But actually when you plot the popularity of chancellor’s against economic growth, the two are surprisingly unconnected.
Plotting chancellors’ approval ratings since 1976 tells us a few things:
1) Chancellors become less popular in a recession, but they can recover. Ken Clarke had a net approval rating of -53 in 1994, but left office with a rating of -17.
2) Labour chancellors tend to be more popular. This may be down to luck, given they have generally been in power during years of growth, but it holds true for Alistair Darling too, whose rating was around -15, which was impressive given the economy looked to be collapsing around him.
3) Ken Clarke was surprisingly unpopular during the early and mid-1990s, even when the economy was growing. His ratings recovered towards the end of the Major government, but his approval seems to have been far more affected by the popularity of the rest of the government than the performance of the economy.
4) Nigel Lawson was not a popular chancellor. Even when he was delighting Tories with tax-cutting Budgets and serving in a government that was re-elected convincingly in 1987, he never had positive approval ratings.
Here’s the chart, feel free to add in your own observations below. For info, the chancellors involved here are:
Denis Healey (1974-1979)
Geoffrey Howe (1979-1983)
Nigel Lawson (1983-1989)
John Major (1989-1990)
Norman Lamont (1990-1993)
Ken Clark (1993-1997)
Gordon Brown (1997-2007)
Alistair Darling (2007-2010)
George Osborne (2010-)