Osborne’s Britain lags behind France and Germany

The UK economy continues to struggle but its competitors are racing ahead.

France and Germany have just released their growth figures for the first quarter of 2011 and they show that Britain continues to lag behind its main competitors. The French economy grew by 1 per cent, its fastest rate of expansion for five years, and the German economy grew by 1.5 per cent, its highest level of growth since the financial crisis.

But while France and Germany outperformed expectations, the UK grew by just 0.5 per cent in Q1 (below the OBR forecast of 0.8 per cent), failing even to recover the lost output from the previous quarter. As Sunder Katwala pointed out, "a 0.5 per cent increase on the reduced figure doesn't make up for the 0.5 per cent fall from a higher base".

When the coalition entered office the economy was growing at an annual rate of more than 4 per cent (growth in the second quarter, thanks in part to Labour's fiscal stimulus, was 1.1 per cent), but for the past six months it has flatlined. And that's before the bulk of the spending cuts has been implemented.

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Earlier this month, Osborne's team made a risible attempt to claim that the UK economy had outperformed that of the US, which grew by 0.4 per cent in the first quarter. But as I explained at the time, this is an entirely bogus comparison. As the graph shows, while the British economy shrank by 0.5 per cent in the previous quarter, the US economy grew by 0.8 per cent. Thus, the US experienced real growth in Q1, while the UK didn't even recover the output that it lost in Q4.

The reality is that the British economy, which was at the top of the EU growth table in the first half of 2010, is now near the bottom. It isn't just the likes of the US, France and Germany that have raced ahead of the UK, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium have overtaken us as well. Only Portugal and Greece have performed worse over the past six months.

A recovery that was already set to be weaker than those of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s is now likely to be weaker still. There is every possibility that the Office for Budget Responsibility will be forced to downgrade its growth forecasts for the fourth time and that the coalition will miss its deficit targets. Osborne's plan isn't working.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn sat down on train he claimed was full, Virgin says

The train company has pushed back against a viral video starring the Labour leader, in which he sat on the floor.

Seats were available on the train where Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has said.

On 16 August, a freelance film-maker who has been following the Labour leader released a video which showed Corbyn talking about the problems of overcrowded trains.

“This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed,” he said. Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

Commentators quickly pointed out that he would not have been able to claim for a first-class upgrade, as expenses rules only permit standard-class travel. Also, campaign expenses cannot be claimed back from the taxpayer. 

Today, Virgin Trains released footage of the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats to film his video, which took half an hour, before walking back to take another unreserved seat.

"CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming.

"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey. There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on."

A Virgin spokesperson commented: “We have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case.

A spokesman for the Corbyn campaign told BuzzFeed News that the footage was a “lie”, and that Corbyn had given up his seat for a woman to take his place, and that “other people” had also sat in the aisles.

Owen Smith, Corbyn's leadership rival, tried a joke:

But a passenger on the train supported Corbyn's version of events.

Both Virgin Trains and the Corbyn campaign have been contacted for further comment.

UPDATE 17:07

A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign commented:

“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat. 

"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.

"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”

A few testimonies from passengers who had their photos taken with Corbyn on the floor can be found here