Osborne should prepare for a triple-dip recession

After returning to growth in the third quarter, the economy is in danger of shrinking again in the fourth quarter.

The hope among the Conservatives is that the next set of growth figures - released on 25 October - will allow them to promote a narrative of economic recovery. It seems likely that the economy finally returned to growth in the third quarter after three successive quarters of decline.

In its latest set of forecasts, Ernst & Young predicts growth of 0.7% in Q3 as the economy benefits from the inclusion of Olympics ticket sales (which are expected to add around 0.2% to GDP) and recovers the lost output from the extra bank holiday in the previous quarter. This would represent the strongest quarter of growth for more than two years, but if we strip out the temporary factors I mentioned, the figure would be just 0.2%. Worse for George Osborne, Ernst & Young expects growth to slow to just 0.1% in the fourth quarter.  As New Statesman economics editor David Blanchflower wrote in his most recent column, "We are in the slowest recovery since the Second World War and are perhaps even heading for a triple dip."

Bank of England MPC member Martin Weale has similarly warned: "The Jubilee depressed output in the second quarter so you get an automatic bounce back. But if we talk about underlying growth then I think the economy is flat. I certainly would not say there is no risk of [a triple-dip recession] happening." Martin Beck, UK economist at Capital Economics, told the Today programme last week: "we expect the economy to start contracting again in the fourth quarter."

Rather than heralding a sustained recovery, as the Tories hope, the Q3 figures will more likely represent a false dawn before growth vanishes again.

George Osborne gives a television interview during the Conservative conference in Birmingham last week. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.