The claim

“In good times people turn to left-wing parties but in bad times they say ‘Left-wing parties can’t necessarily make those tough decisions, we’ll turn to the right.”

Ed Miliband, BBC Radio 4 Today programme, 10 January 2012

The background

Trying to define what he’ll bring to the party as Leader in opposition, Ed Miliband said today he would “demonstrate once and for all that Labour is a party for all times, not only a party for good times”.

The next time Labour comes to power will be different, he said, because it “will be handed a deficit”.

This isn’t something that usually happens, he argued. Labour only gets into power during the good times.

But is it true that voters only side with the Left when things are looking up? FactCheck looks at the evidence.

The analysis

For the sake of argument, FactCheck has looked at UK economic growth or gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of the “good times”. The Office for National Statistics only began recording GDP in 1948, therefore annual growth rates are only available from 1949.

The verdict

The graph shows that Labour has indeed never been voted in when the economy has been in trouble – in fact it has never swept into Number 10 with economic growth running below 2 per cent.

But it also shows that they are not always voted into power when the economy is buoyant either.

The Tories oversaw three peaks in economic growth between 1951 and 1964 without Labour getting in, another one in the 70s and two more in the 80’s.

Perhaps that’s why Mr Miliband narrowed his claim, later today,to cover just New Labour’s tenure. “Each time New Labour won an election, it won at a time when business was prospering. Next time we come back to power, it will be different,” he said.

Labour was booted out because times were bad, he said, but he continues to reject the charge that it was the last Labour government’s overspending the caused the deficit.

Mr Miliband has long blamed the financial crisis for the deficit. Yet as FactCheck has proved before, this was only part of the problem.

The fact is, while Labour cut some of its debts, it could have done much more. If it had, we would have been better prepared for the economic maelstrom. That said, the drop in tax receipts triggered by the economic crisis is what’s behind the bulk of the £149bn deficit (read our previous FactCheck for more).

The Labour leader said today: “We’ve got to show we can deliver fairness in these tough times.”  Looking at the historical data however, Labour may have to prove to voters that it can deliver fairness in the good times too.

By Emma Thelwell