Blow for Osborne as economy grows by just 0.2 per cent

The Chancellor hails "positive news" but he's missed his growth target again.

The news is out: the economy grew by just 0.2 per cent in the second quarter of this year. George Osborne will be relieved that it's not a negative figure, as some predicted, but it's still unambiguously bad news for the Chancellor. He needed growth of at least 0.8 per cent to stay on track to meet the OBR's growth forecast for this year (1.7 per cent - a figure that has been downgraded three times) and he's fallen well short. With this in mind, it is risible of him to claim that growth of 0.2 per cent is "positive news".

The Office for National Statistics said that "special factors", including the royal wedding, the Japanese tsunami and the unusually warm weather knocked around 0.5 per cent off GDP, which Osborne will cite in his defence. But the reality is that the economy has now grown by just 0.2 per cent over the last nine months, compared with growth of 2.1 per cent over the previous nine (see graph). As a result, the OBR will now be forced to cut its growth forecast for the fourth time since it was founded last May. Against this backdrop, it's hardly surprising, as the Telegraph reports, that "Downing Street aides [have] become increasingly impatient with a lack of growth".

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We can expect Osborne and his allies to blame all manner of things, from the royal wedding (which we were originally told would "boost the economy"), to the eurozone crisis, to global instability. They're right - up to a point - but that doesn't explain why Britain has performed so much worse than many of its competitors, all of whom face the same "global challenges". Germany grew more in Q1 (1.5 per cent) than the UK will in all of this year.

The truth is that Osborne's policies have exacerbated, rather than diminished, Britain's economic problems. His mythical claim that Britain was "on the brink of bankruptcy" had a chilling effect on consumer confidence as families stopped spending in anticipation of the cuts and tax rises to come. His reckless decision to raise VAT to 20 per cent tightened the squeeze and automatically added 1.5 per cent to inflation.

So, to quote Lenin, what is to be done? There is, as I've argued before, a strong a case for a temporary cut in VAT. A VAT cut would boost consumer spending, lower inflation (thus reducing the risk of a premature rate rise), protect retail jobs and increase real wages. When Alistair Darling reduced the tax to 15 per cent during the financial crisis, consumers spent £9bn more than they otherwise would have done. A VAT cut today would be a similarly effective fiscal stimulus. But Osborne and David Cameron have already ruled out such a course of action.

That leaves Vince Cable's call for a "more imaginative" form of quantitative easing - the closest the government has to a plan B. But even another round of QE - the effectiveness of which is doubted by many economists - won't be enough to kick-start the economy. Osborne might have avoided a double dip but an anaemic recovery now looks inevitable.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.