Britain on the brink of a double-dip recession

GDP fell by 0.2 per cent in the final quarter of 2011.

In the end, it was even worse than expected. The Office for Budget Responsibility predicted that the economy shrunk by 0.1 per cent in quarter four of 2011 but this morning's preliminary figures show that it shrunk by 0.2 per cent. What's more, the detailed breakdown of the figures shows that without a rise in "government services" such as health and education, which were up by 0.4 per cent on the quarter, GDP would have fallen even faster, by 0.3 per cent. So much for a private sector-led recovery. Should the economy contract again in this quarter, Britain will officially be back in recession.

The negative figure was, as the Treasury noted, hardly unexpected. Indeed, George Osborne had prepared the ground in his Autumn Statement, warning that "if the rest of Europe heads into recession, it may prove hard to avoid one here in the UK." But that does not make it any more less unpalatable for the Chancellor. His 2010 promise of "a steady and sustained economic recovery, with low inflation and falling unemployment" is a distant dream. Unemployment is heading towards three million, debt has reached £1 trillion and, in the last year, the economy has grown by just 0.8 per cent, one of the slowest rates in Europe. Conversely, over the previous year, partly thanks to Labour's fiscal stimulus, the economy grew by 1.6 per cent.

The lack of growth will make it even harder for Osborne to meet his deficit reduction targets, forcing him to add to the £158bn of extra borrowing already announced. It will also, inevitably, revive speculation that the UK could lose its AAA credit rating. Explaining its recent decision to downgrade the ratings of nine eurozone countries, Standard & Poor's cited concerns over growth, not borrowing. "A reform process based on a pillar of fiscal austerity alone risks becoming self-defeating," it warned. And in the case of Britain, there is plenty to be concerned about.

In political terms, however, today's figures may change little. Osborne will continue to stand by his deficit reduction plan and Labour will (rightly) continue to argue that the government is cutting "too far, too fast". As you were, then. But while the Chancellor will probably be able to shrug off one quarter of negative growth it would be a lot harder for him to explain away the first double-dip recession since 1957. The pressure for a change of course could then become irresistible.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war