Osborne's policies threaten Britain's AAA rating

Moody's warning proves that Britain isn't out of the danger zone.

So now Moody's has got in on the game. Today, it reiterated its warning that the UK could shortly lose its AAA credit rating because Osborne's policies are failing. The pound fell by more than half a cent on the news. Specifically, this was because growth is failing and this hopeless coalition government looks unlikely to hit its deficit reduction targets. As a result of the lack of growth in the economy, this week, Slasher has admitted that he is going to have to allow the automatic stabilisers to kick in to prevent the economy dropping off a cliff. Oh, dear. And all of that in the week when Cameron announced more U-turns on the NHS and prison reform. Three U-turns in a week is rather a lot.

So much for Osborne's claim, a couple of weeks ago, in his speech to the Institute of Directors on 11 May that: "Our credit rating has come off negative outlook ­ when other countries are facing downgrades. We have brought much-needed stability at home and attracted near universal confidence abroad." Looks like that confidence is slipping as each hour passes. Yesterday, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, fired a shot across Slasher's bow when he warned that cutting fiscally too quickly was "self-defeating" and that uneven recoveries are likely to require further stimulus. "Establishing a credible plan for reducing future deficits now would not only enhance economic performance in the long run but could also yield near-term benefits by leading to lower long-term interest rates. On the other hand, "A sharp fiscal consolidation focused on the very near term could be self-defeating." That is how it is looking in the UK. It is interesting that the US has restored the GDP that was lost in the recession and is growing, albeit slowly, while the UK is stagnating and likely needs more stimulus than the US does.

Plus, plans for the new Financial Services Committee also look to be in disarray as the Treasury select committee expressed concern this week about the lack of independence of its members and has called for more external members. Alistair Clark, who worked for years at Mervyn King's side, hardly seems independent. Giving all that power to the Bank means that Mervyn is likely to dominate just as he did with the MPC -- and look what a mess groupthink got us into in 2008. The ex-MPC members Sushil Wadhwani and Willem Buiter also expressed their opposition on giving the Bank of England more powers. Osborne's plans for financial stability are in a mess, along with lots of other policies this government has failed to think through. Plus, banks are still not lending, as Vince Cable made clear today. Maybe one day this government will do something about it!

There was also some more worrying economic news on jobs and retail sales. The latest KPMG/REC report on jobs showed weaker increases in both permanent placements and temp billings. The growth of overall job vacancies eased to a five-month low and there was the lowest rise in permanent staff salaries for three months. Commenting on the results, Bernard Brown, partner and head of business services at KPMG, said: "The latest figures are worrying -­ because they reveal a marked slowdown of the UK jobs market. We'll need to see whether this is a trend or a blip. Employers across all sectors are becoming more cautious about hiring new staff. With businesses and consumers now being hit by higher taxes and fuel costs, public-spending cuts and a continuing squeeze on real incomes -­ this is perhaps no surprise." Too right.

May's BRC retail sales monitor suggests that the underlying strength of the consumer recovery is exceptionally weak. The annual growth rate of like-for-like sales values fell to minus 2.1 per cent, down from the 5.2 per cent growth seen in April. April's figures were boosted by the later timing of Easter this year and the royal wedding, so a sharp drop was always on the cards. But Capital Economics has pointed out that May's survey was particularly weak and, excluding past months, which were adversely affected by the timing of Easter, "This was the weakest reading since December 2008." Before too long, Osborne may have to take the IMF's advice and cut taxes. How about now?

I couldn't let David Smith's ridiculous and out-of-touch column in the Sunday Times over the weekend calling for a rise in the exchange rate to pass unnoticed. He claimed: "The main reason we need a stronger pound is to help control inflation and limit the extent that interest rates will need to rise to do so." Honestly, I don't know what planet this guy is on, as that is absolutely the last thing the British economy needs, given that we have had zero growth over the past six months and austerity has yet to hit. Second, we don't have an inflation problem: we potentially have a problem of deflation, as the MPC has made clear once the transitory effects of VAT, commodity and oil prices and the fall in the exchange rate drop out. Indeed, it would be even clearer that we were faced with the possibility of deflation if falling house prices were included in the CPI. Any attempt to raise rates now would decimate growth further. Smith has been on the wrong side of almost every economic issue throughout this recession and, of course, failed to spot it in the first place.

The UK demonstrably does not need a stronger pound right now. A depreciated currency has provided a welcome stimulus to the economy and any appreciation now would be bad for employment and growth. I guess Smith hasn't noticed that the pound has appreciated strongly over the past 12 months (from $1.45 to approx $1.65) since the Fed did more competitive QE and the MPC, wrongly, did not respond by doing more QE, too. Smith chortled that the Institute of Economic Affairs' shadow MPC shamelessly promotes and supports him. Personally I couldn't care less that six third-rate, right-wing hacks agreed with Smith and voted for a rate rise. They have zero credibility and should be ignored: as the MPC ­- minus "Death" Sentance -- fortunately will do this week. As the IMF made quite clear, a rate hike now would put Slasher in trouble. On second thoughts, maybe they should raise rates . . .

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.