IMF warns that Osborne may need to delay cuts

UK should consider slowing "planned adjustment" if growth continues to disappoint, says the IMF.

It's only Tuesday but this has already been a bad week for George Osborne. Yesterday it emerged that the structural deficit could be £12bn higher-than-expected, now the IMF, hitherto a strong supporter of the Chancellor's economic strategy, has slashed its growth forecasts for the UK, and has warned that Britain, the US and Germany (all countries where governments can borrow at historically low rates) should "consider delaying some of their planned adjustment" if growth continues to fall short of expectations. In other words, Osborne might well need a "plan B".

Just a month ago, the IMF said that the UK should only consider slowing its deficit reduction plan if it looked as though the economy was headed for a "prolonged period of weak growth, high unemployment and subdued inflation." But now it suggests that weaker-than-expected growth would be justification enough. The consensus, however slowly, is beginning to turn against Osborne and against extreme austerity.

The IMF now predicts that the UK will grow by just 1.1 per cent this year (down from an earlier forecast of 1.5 per cent) and by 1.6 per cent in 2012 (down from 2.3 per cent). If the fund is right, growth will be worse than in 2010 and significantly lower than the OBR's forecast of 1.7 per cent. The IMF has now cut its 2011 UK growth forecast four times in the last year (from 2 per cent, to 1.7 per cent, to 1.5 per cent, to 1.1 per cent). There is every likelihood that it will do so again. The "grey skies" that Vince Cable spoke of yesterday are looking even greyer today.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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It's Gary Lineker 1, the Sun 0

The football hero has found himself at the heart of a Twitter storm over the refugee children debate.

The Mole wonders what sort of topsy-turvy universe we now live in where Gary Lineker is suddenly being called a “political activist” by a Conservative MP? Our favourite big-eared football pundit has found himself in a war of words with the Sun newspaper after wading into the controversy over the age of the refugee children granted entry into Britain from Calais.

Pictures published earlier this week in the right-wing press prompted speculation over the migrants' “true age”, and a Tory MP even went as far as suggesting that these children should have their age verified by dental X-rays. All of which leaves your poor Mole with a deeply furrowed brow. But luckily the British Dental Association was on hand to condemn the idea as unethical, inaccurate and inappropriate. Phew. Thank God for dentists.

Back to old Big Ears, sorry, Saint Gary, who on Wednesday tweeted his outrage over the Murdoch-owned newspaper’s scaremongering coverage of the story. He smacked down the ex-English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson, in a single tweet, calling him a “racist idiot”, and went on to defend his right to express his opinions freely on his feed.

The Sun hit back in traditional form, calling for Lineker to be ousted from his job as host of the BBC’s Match of the Day. The headline they chose? “Out on his ears”, of course, referring to the sporting hero’s most notable assets. In the article, the tabloid lays into Lineker, branding him a “leftie luvvie” and “jug-eared”. The article attacked him for describing those querying the age of the young migrants as “hideously racist” and suggested he had breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.

All of which has prompted calls for a boycott of the Sun and an outpouring of support for Lineker on Twitter. His fellow football hero Stan Collymore waded in, tweeting that he was on “Team Lineker”. Leading the charge against the Murdoch-owned title was the close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Channel 4 News economics editor, Paul Mason, who tweeted:

Lineker, who is not accustomed to finding himself at the centre of such highly politicised arguments on social media, responded with typical good humour, saying he had received a bit of a “spanking”.

All of which leaves the Mole with renewed respect for Lineker and an uncharacteristic desire to watch this weekend’s Match of the Day to see if any trace of his new activist persona might surface.


I'm a mole, innit.