The bad economic news keeps flooding in

UK manufacturing output hits a 26-month low as growth forecasts are cut again.

The bad economic news keeps flooding in on a daily basis -- but there's still no response from George Osborne.

Manufacturing had been booming -- not least because of exports driven by the significant depreciation in the pound -- but that appears to be heading into reverse. Today's PMI for UK manufacturing fell to a 26-month low. Production fell for the first time since May 2009, as new order inflows declined at the most marked pace in almost two and a half years. The trend in new export business was also substantially weaker than just one month ago. Manufacturers linked the reduction to weak domestic demand, rising global economic uncertainty and lower levels of new export business.

Rob Dobson, senior economist at Markit, commenting on the data, argued: "The second half of 2011 has, so far, seen the UK manufacturing sector, once the pivotal cog in the economic recovery, switch into reverse gear . . . The sudden and substantial drop in new export orders is particularly worrisome, with UK manufacturers hit by rising global economic uncertainty, just as austerity measures are ramping up at home. As consumer and business confidence are slumping both at home and abroad, it is hard to see where any near-term improvement in demand will spring from."

Then, today, the British Chambers of Commerce cuts its growth forecast. They are now expecting GDP growth of 1.1 per cent in 2011 (down from 1.3 per cent) and 2.1 per cent in 2012 (down from 2.2 per cent), rising to 2.5 per cent in 2013. This is much less than the Office for Budget Responsibility, for example, which is forecasting 1.7 per cent in 2011 and 2.5 per cent in 2012.

This lowering of the growth forecast is consistent with evidence from Grant Thornton's UK Business Confidence Monitor for Q3 2011, conducted between 3 May and 29 July 2011, which showed that business confidence had fallen sharply. The confidence index stands at 8.1, down from 13.7 in Q2 2011 to its lowest level since Q3 2009.

The Confidence Index has been on a downward path since a post-recession bounce-back that started in late 2009 and peaked in the first half of 2010, just as this coalition government took office. Notably, the survey suggested that business confidence in the manufacturing and engineering sectors was "relatively downbeat" and continued to weaken.

And then there were some really daft comments from Andrew Sentance in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, in which he argued against further stimulus.

"The global economic recovery has been under way for about two years . . . Monetary policy needs to shift away from the emergency settings that were put in place to halt sharp falls in demand in late 2008 and 2009. The deflationary risks that were then a worry have now receded. Indeed, in some countries -- such as the UK -- persistent inflation is now the bigger worry . . . further stimulus of the demand side would be a move in the wrong direction. It may appear to offer the prospect of short-term respite from economic difficulties. But it will not help us secure the conditions for sustainable growth and lasting economic recovery." Yes it will.

Sentance couldn't be more wrong -- as data from the past few days has made clear, the global economy is slowing fast. It is now apparent that his votes for increasing interest rates at his last 12 meetings were completely misguided as growth plummets and unemployment rises. The UK now has a growth problem, rather than an inflation problem. Wrong on interest rates and wrong on austerity.

Ed Balls had it right today on the World at One: "If you adjust for the high oil prices [and] the fall in the exchange rate, underlying inflation in Britain today is very low indeed. That is reflected in long-term interest rates being very low. Why is that? Because our economy isn't growing . . . Manufacturing output is down and, all around the world in America, in Europe and in Britain, the challenge for central bankers is to do what they can with monetary policy to support growth and get things moving again. The trouble is, in the very unusual global situation we're in, it is hard for interest rates to do that job. That is why there is a challenge to fiscal policymakers to act, as well."

Now is the time for the coalition to act to stimulate growth.

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

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Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley: "The Greens can win over Ukip voters too"

The party co-leaders condemned Labour's "witch hunt" of Green-supporting members. 

“You only have to cast your eyes along those green benches to think this place doesn't really represent modern Britain,” said Caroline Lucas, the UK’s only Green MP, of the House of Commons. “There are lots of things you could do about it, and one is say: ‘Why not have job share MPs?’”

Politics is full of partnerships and rivalries, but not job shares. When Lucas and Jonathan Bartley were elected co-leaders of the Green party in September, they made history. 

“I don't think any week's been typical so far,” said Bartley, when I met the co-leaders in Westminster’s Portcullis House. During the debate on the Hinkley power plant, he said, Lucas was in her constituency: “I was in Westminster, so I could pop over to do the interviews.”

Other times, it’s Bartley who travels: “I’ve been over to Calais already, and I was up in Morecambe and Lancaster. It means we’re not left without a leader.”

The two Green leaders have had varied careers. Lucas has become a familiar face in Parliament since 2010, whereas Bartley has spent most of his career in political backrooms and wonkish circles (he co-founded the think tank Ekklesia). In the six weeks since being elected, though, they seem to have mastered the knack of backing each other up. After Lucas, who represents Brighton Pavilion, made her point about the green benches, Bartley chimed in. “My son is a wheelchair user. He is now 14," he said. "I just spent a month with him, because he had to have a major operation and he was in the recovery period. The job share allows that opportunity.”

It’s hard enough for Labour’s shadow cabinet to stay on message. So how will the Greens do it? “We basically said that although we've got two leaders, we've got one set of policies,” said Lucas. She smiled. “Whereas Labour kind of has the opposite.”

The ranks of the Greens, like Labour, have swelled since the referendum. Many are the usual suspects - Remainers still distressed about Brexit. But Lucas and Bartley believe they can tap into some of the discontent driving the Ukip vote in northern England.

“In Morecambe, I was chatting to someone who was deciding whether to vote Ukip or Green,” said Bartley. “He was really distrustful of the big political parties, and he wanted to send a clear message.”

Bartley points to an Ashcroft poll showing roughly half of Leave voters believed capitalism was a force for ill (a larger proportion nevertheless was deeply suspicious of the green movement). Nevertheless, the idea of voters moving from a party defined by border control to one that is against open borders “for now” seems counterintuitive. 

“This issue in the local election wasn’t about migration,” Bartley said. “This voter was talking about power and control, and he recognised the Greens could give him that.

“He was remarking it was the first time anyone had knocked on his door.”

According to a 2015 study by the LSE researcher James Dennison, Greens and Kippers stand out almost equally for their mistrust in politicians, and their dissatisfaction with British democracy. 

Lucas believes Ukip voters want to give “the system” a “bloody big kick” and “people who vote Green are sometimes doing that too”. 

She said: “We’re standing up against the system in a very different way from Ukip, but to that extent there is a commonality.”

The Greens say what they believe, she added: “We’re not going to limit our ambitions to the social liberal.”

A more reliable source of support may be the young. A May 2015 YouGov poll found 7 per cent of voters aged 18 to 29 intended to vote Green, compared to just 2 per cent of those aged 60+. 

Bartley is cautious about inflaming a generational divide, but Lucas acknowledges that young people feel “massively let down”.

She said: “They are certainly let down by our housing market, they are let down by universities. 

“The Greens are still against tuition fees - we want a small tax for the biggest businesses to fund education because for us education is a public good, not a private commodity.”

Of course, it’s all very well telling young people what they want to hear, but in the meantime the Tory government is moving towards a hard Brexit and scrapping maintenance grants. Lucas and Bartley are some of the biggest cheerleaders for a progressive alliance, and Lucas co-authored a book with rising Labour star Lisa Nandy on the subject. On the book tour, she was “amazed” by how many people turned up “on wet Friday evenings” to hear about “how we choose a less tribal politics”. 

Nevertheless, the idea is still controversial, not least among many in Nandy's own party. The recent leadership contest saw a spate of members ejected for publicly supporting the Greens, among other parties. 

“It was like a witch hunt,” said Lucas. “Some of those tweets were from a year or two ago. They might have retweeted something that happened to be from me saying ‘come join us in opposing fracking’, which is now a Labour policy. To kick someone out for that is deeply shocking.”

By contrast, the Greens have recently launched a friends scheme for supporters, including those who are already a member of another party. “The idea that one party is going to know it all is nonsense,” said Bartley. “That isn’t reality.”

Lucas and Bartley believe the biggest potential for a progressive alliance is at constituency level, where local people feel empowered, not disenfranchised, by brokering deals. They recall the 1997 election, when voters rallied around the independent candidate Martin Bell to trounce the supposedly safe Tory MP Neil Hamilton. Citing a recent letter co-signed by the Greens, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru condemning Tory rhetoric on immigrants, Bartley points out that smaller parties are already finding ways to magnify their voice. The fact the party backed down on listing foreign workers was, he argued, “a significant win”. 

As for true electoral reform, in 2011, a referendum on changing Britain's rigid first past the post system failed miserably. But the dismal polls for the Labour party, could, Lucas thinks, open up a fresh debate.

“More and more people in the Labour party recognise now that no matter who their leader is, their chance of getting an outright majority at the next election is actually vanishingly small,” she said. “It’s in their interests to support electoral reform. That's the game changer.” 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.