The IMF's warnings to Osborne

Tax cuts and further QE will be needed if growth remains weak, says the IMF.

The IMF's latest assessment of the British economy is in and although the body has once again endorsed Osborne's Plan A, it does so with several notable caveats. Ajai Chopra, the IMF mission chief to the UK, writes in a blog that the government should respond quickly with "further quantitative easing" and "temporary tax cuts" if it looks as though the economy is headed for a "prolonged period of weak growth, high unemployment and subdued inflation." It's important to add that the IMF says it currently doesn't expect this happen but Vince Cable - who has called for "more radical" forms of QE - may have found an ally.

Then there's the fact that the body says Osborne could miss his target of eradicating the structural deficit by the end of this Parliament. It forecasts that "the cyclically-adjusted current budget" will "just reach balance" in 2015-16 (a year later than Osborne expects) but adds that there is "little margin for error".

In perhaps the most important passage in the document, the IMF notes that "consolidation has so far relied heavily on tax hikes and the phase-out of stimulus. As consolidation becomes more reliant on structural spending cuts going forward, implementation challenges may rise." In other words, deficit reduction could become even harder as the cuts come to dominate (Osborne split the pain 73:27 between cuts and tax rises).

But what of the implications for growth? It's worth highlighting another IMF study which found that, contrary to neoliberal wisdom, austerity programmes invariably lead to reduced output. The body looked at 170 examples of fiscal policy stretching back to the 1930s and concluded: "Our estimates suggest fiscal consolidation has contractionary effects on private domestic demand and GDP."

George Osborne has consistently argued that the cuts will increase confidence and that excessive state spending is "crowding out" private investment. But the IMF's conclusions suggest that "expansionary fiscal contraction" is, in the words of Larry Summers, "every bit as oxymoronic as it sounds".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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