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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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.