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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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.