How likely does Cable think a double-dip recession is?

Vince Cable, Business Secretary, says “well below 50-50”; the Treasury says one in five.

Decca Aitkenhead's enjoyable interview with Vince Cable in today's Guardian includes this revealing exchange on the possibility of a double-dip recession:

The risk of a double-dip recession remains, he acknowledges, very real -- perhaps a little more so in his mind than the Treasury's. "As I recall," he says, "the government's own forecasting risk puts it at something like one in four, one in five." But asked for his own estimate, he says, "Well, you know, certainly well below 50-50," which sounds somewhat higher than one in five.

Like Nick Clegg's declaration that he had slept with "no more than 30" women, this is an answer that reveals far more than it intends to.

As Aitkenhead suggests, "well below 50-50" does sound rather higher than one in five. If we take into account that a cabinet minister quoted on the record is unlikely to suggest that a recession is probable, it's quite possible Cable thinks this is an underestimate.

It may be that he has studied the growing evidence of the risk of a double dip, long forecast by our economics columnist, David Blanchflower. Today's news that the recovery in the jobs market will stall this year is another sign of the trouble ahead.

To his credit, Kenneth Clarke has previously warned that a double-dip recession is "quite possible still" and that the coalition's cuts could damage growth. Let us hope that he and Cable are having words with George Osborne.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.