Today's GDP figures are the final nail in the coffin of Osborne's credibility

This was all so avoidable, and entirely predictable.

The Q2 GDP growth figures from the ONS today were absolutely awful. Indeed, it was even worse than I had expected, having predicted -0.5 per cent against a consensus view of -0.2 per cent. The number came in at -0.7 per cent, which meant that the economy has had three successive quarters of negative growth - four of the last five and five of the last seven.

The economy has contracted by 1.4 per cent over the last three quarters and by 0.8 per cent since the Chancellor's autumn statement in 2010. The UK and Italy are the only two major countries in double dip recession and growth has been worse in the UK over the last year than it has been in Spain. The decline was broad-based, driven especially by a collapse in construction, which declined by 5.2 per cent in Q2, following 4.9 per cent on the previous quarter. Production fell by 1.3 per cent and services by 0.1 per cent. The IMF forecast of 0.2 per cent growth last week already looks overly optimistic - I have pencilled in -0.5 per cent or worse.

The coalition government took over an economy that was growing and by its inept policies it has killed growth stone dead. In interviews today, the Chancellor claimed he was “relentlessly focused” on sorting the economy out in the same way (presumably as King Canute was also determined to keep the tide back?). This, as ever, was worthless drivel because it is clear to all that the government's economic policy of austerity has failed and they have no clue what to do. The only fix is a fundamental U-turn with tax cuts, especially VAT, and big incentives for firms to invest and hire today – not in three years time. And what about youth unemployment? Policies to get infrastructure going are welcome but they won't have any effect for years; they should have been implemented when the government took office - now it is too late to get the economy growing again anytime soon. The Tory-led government still has no growth plan. If it does, let’s hear it.

The recession deniers were out in force saying that they couldn’t possibly be wrong, so there must be something wrong with the numbers. Of course, the main reason for this is that they supported the government's austerity nonsense and have egg on their faces. Just to make the point for the umpteenth time – the average data revision over the last 20 years is +0.1 per cent and over the last five years -0.1 per cent. In fact, the data revisions have generally been on the low side when the economy is slowing, as occurred in 2008. The statistical chances of the data being revised down further are the same as being revised up.

I do recall the 35 business leaders, who wrote to the Telegraph in October 2010 to say:

It has been suggested that the deficit reduction programme set out by George Osborne in his emergency Budget should be watered down and spread over more than one parliament. We believe that this would be a mistake. Addressing the debt problem in a decisive way will improve business and consumer confidence....There is no reason to think that the pace of consolidation envisaged in the Budget will undermine the recovery.

It hasn't exactly worked out that way. There has been no recovery, the economy is smaller today than it was when they put pen to paper, and business and consumer confidence has collapsed. It would be interesting to hear from them today on why it all went so badly wrong. Their silence is telling.

I now have every expectation that within a few days the UK will lose its AAA credit rating. I never thought it was actually a big deal as proved by the fact that when France was downgraded and bond yields fell. But Slasher Osborne set it up as something he should be judged against and so we should all do that.

This was all so avoidable, and entirely predictable. Our incompetent, part-time Chancellor and his advisers should be removed from office and put out to pasture. Ed Balls was right.

I am very angry that this visitation of evil spirits had to be foisted on the British people. We deserve better. This really is time for the biggest U-turn in history - that's what failure brings. I really have no sympathy for the fools – Cameron, Osborne and Clegg especially – who talked the economy down by claiming it was bankrupt and falsely comparing the UK to Greece.

No more excuses.


"Slasher" Osborne has been proved wrong yet again. Photograph: Getty Images

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

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.