COALITION Government leaders have been “posing” as the guardians of prosperity and have been getting away with it, according to a Nobel Prize-winning economist.

Writing in the New York Times, Paul Krugman said Britain’s performance since the financial crisis struck has been “startlingly bad”, with a tentative recovery that began in 2009 and stalled in 2010.

“Although growth resumed in 2013, real income per capita is only now reaching its level on the eve of the crisis, which means that Britain has had a much worse track record since 2007 than it had during the Great Depression,” he said.

“Yet as Britain prepares to go to the polls, the leaders of the coalition Government that has ruled the country since 2010 are posing as the guardians of prosperity, the people who really know how to run the economy. And they are, by and large, getting away with it.”

Krugman asked how a British government with such a poor economic record could campaign on its supposed economic achievements.

“Well, you could blame the weakness of the opposition, which has done an absolutely terrible job of making its case. You could blame the fecklessness of the news media, which has gotten much wrong,” wrote the 2008 Nobel winner.

“But the truth is that what’s happening in British politics is what almost always happens, there and everywhere else. Voters have fairly short memories, and they judge economic policy not by long-term results but by recent growth.

“Over five years, the coalition’s record looks terrible. But over the past couple of quarters it looks pretty good, and that’s what matters politically.”

Krugman said political science research debunked “almost all the horse-race narratives beloved by political pundits – never mind who wins the news cycle, or who appeals to the supposed concerns of independent voters”.

He added: “What mainly matters is income growth immediately before the election ... we’re talking about something less than a year, maybe less than half a year,” which suggested there was “little or no political reward for good policy”.

“A nation’s leaders may do an excellent job of economic stewardship for four or five years yet get booted out because of weakness in the last two quarters before the election.

“In fact, the evidence suggests that the politically smart thing might well be to impose a pointless depression on your country for much of your time in office, solely to leave room for a roaring recovery just before voters go to the polls.

“That’s a pretty good description of what the current British government has done, although it’s not clear it was deliberate.”

He said elections, which were supposed to hold politicians accountable, did not seem to do so when it came to economic policy.

And he said a possible solution would be to seek a “better-informed electorate”.

“One really striking thing about the British economic debate is the contrast between what passes for economic analysis in the news media, even in high-end newspapers and on elite-oriented TV shows, and the consensus of professional economists.

“News reports often portray recent growth as a vindication of austerity policies, but surveys of economists find only a small minority agreeing with that assertion.”

Krugman suggested those who studied economic policy and cared about real-world outcomes should “try to get it right, and explain our answers as clearly as we can”.

But he admitted the political impact would at best be marginal. “Bad things will happen to good ideas, and vice versa. So be it. Elections determine who has the power, not who has the truth.”