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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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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