The UK could already be back in recession, say forecasters

The Item Club and the CEBR say Britain is in a double-dip recession. Where is the government's plan

Barely a week goes past without more bleak economic news. And now, according to two top forecasters, it appears that the UK could already be back in recession.

Ernst and Young's Item Club and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) both believe that GDP shrank in the final quarter of 2011 and will fall again in the current three month period. A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of contracting output.

This may come as no surprise (the OECD predicted similar results in November last year), but the Item Club's predictions are particularly worrying for the coalition. It is the only non-governmental forecasting group to use the same economic model for its forecasts as the Treasury and the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

The Item Club's report predicts that the economy will grow just 0.2 per cent this year, and will not return to normal levels of growth until 2014, because the eurozone crisis will hold back investment in the UK. Even if a solution is found, it predicts that Britain's economy will still only grow by 1.75 per cent in 2012 and 3.8 per cent in 2014. Nor is it optimistic about job prospects, stating that unemployment will rise by a further 300,000 to just below three million people as the private sector fails to compensate for public sector job losses.

The CEBR reiterates these findings. It revised down its forecast for growth for 2012 from 0.7 per cent growth to a decline of 0.4 per cent, with a risk of decline of 1.1 per cent if the situation in the eurozone worsens.

For the time being, then, there is little light at the end of the tunnel. Amid these depressing forecasts about growth and unemployment, IPPR North has humanised the statistics by analysing ONS figures to show that in some areas of the UK, there are 20 jobseekers for each vacancy. In the worst affected area, West Dunbartonshire, there are 20 for each vacancy, while in London, Lewisham has 16 jobseekers for every job. It found that the national average was four jobseekers for every vacancy.

If these predictions are borne out -- and past example suggests that the most pessimistic forecasts tend to be the correct ones -- then it will be the double dip recession that the New Statesman has been warning of since March 2009. In October 2009, our Economics Editor David Blanchflower wrote:

Lesson number one in a deep recession is you don't cut public spending until you are into the boom phase. John Maynard Keynes taught us that. The euro area appears to be heading back into recession and the austerity measures being introduced in certain eurozone countries, especially those in Germany, will inevitably lower UK growth, too. It is extremely unlikely, therefore, that net trade will leap to our rescue. taught us that. The consequence of cutting too soon is that you drive the economy into a depression, with the attendant threats of rapidly rising unemployment, social disorder, rising poverty, falling living standards and even soup kitchens.

The government's sole economic priority thus far has been balancing the books. Will they come up with a plan for growth, faced with more and more bleak predictions? Somehow, it doesn't seem likely.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The Taliban's succession crisis will not diminish its resilience

Haibatullah Akhunzada's appointment as leader of the Taliban may put stress on the movement, but is unlikely to dampen its insurgency. 

After 19 years under the guidance of the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Omar, the group has now faced two succession crises in under a year. But although Haibatullah Akhunzada’s appointment as leader of the Taliban will likely put stress on the movement, it shows few signals of diminishing its renewed insurgency.

The news pretty much ends speculation about former leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death in a US airstrike in Pakistan’s south-western Baluchistan province, which was criticised by Islamabad as a violation of its sovereignty.

The Taliban would have prepared extensively for this eventuality. The fast appointment, following days of intense council, appears to be a conspicuous act of decisiveness. It stands in contrast to the two-year delay the movement faced in announcing the death of the Mullah Omar. It will be not be lost on the Taliban that it was subterfuge around the death of Mullah Omar that caused the fracture within the movement which in turn led to the establishment of an ISIS presence in the country.

The appointment is a victory for the Taliban old guard. As former head of the Taliban's judiciary and Mullah Mansour’s deputy, in many ways, Haibatullah is a natural successor. Haibatullah, described by Afghanistan expert Sami Yousafzai as a “stone age Mullah,” demonstrates the Taliban’s inherent tendency to resort to tradition rather than innovation during times of internal crisis.

The decision taken by the Taliban to have an elder statesman of the group at the helm highlights the increasing marginalisation of the Haqqani network, a powerful subset within the Taliban that has been waging an offensive against the government and coalition forces in northwest Pakistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network who already has a bounty of 5 million dollars on his head, was touted in some Taliban circles as a potential successor, however the decision to overlook him is a conservative move from the Taliban. 

The Taliban’s leadership of the jihad against the Afghan government is hinged on their claims to religious legitimacy, something the group will hope to affirm through the Haibatullah’s jurisprudential credentials. This assertion of authority has particular significance given the rise of ISIS elements in the country. The last two Taliban chiefs have both declared themselves to be amir ul-momineen or ‘leader of the faithful,’ providing a challenge to the parallel claims of ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Any suggestions that Mansour’s death will lead to the unravelling of the Taliban are premature. The military targeting of prominent jihadi leaders within group structures has been seen in operations against the leadership of ISIS, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and other groups.

In recent research for the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics, we found that it is often less prominent jihadis that play an integral role in keeping the movement alive. Targeted killings do create a void, but this often comes at the expense of addressing the wider support base and ideological draw of militant outfits. This is particularly relevant with a relatively decentralised movement like the Taliban.

Such operations can spur activity. If the example of the Taliban’s previous leadership succession is to be heeded, we might expect renewed attacks across Afghanistan, beyond the group’s strongholds near the eastern border with Pakistan. The brief capture of Kunduz, Afghanistan's fifth-largest city, at the end of September 2015, was a show of strength to answer the numerous internal critics of Mullah Mansour’s new leadership of the movement.

In a news cycle dominated by reports of ISIS, and to a diminishing extent al-Qaeda, atrocities, it is important to comprehend the renewed brutality of the Afghan insurgency.  Data from the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics Global Extremism Monitor found a seventeen per cent rise in fatalities from March to April, marking the start of the Taliban’s spring fighting season. A suicide attack in central Kabul on the headquarters of an elite military unit that killed 64 people was the single most deadly act of terror around the world in the month of April, and the group’s bloodiest attack in the Afghan capital for years. Reports this morning of a suicide attack on a bus killing 10 staff from an appeal court west of Kabul, suggests that the violence shows no sign of diminishing under the new leadership.

All these developments come during a period of renewed impetus behind international peace talks. Last week representatives from Pakistan were joined by delegates from Afghanistan, the United States, and China in an attempt to restart the stalled negotiation process with the Taliban.

Haibatullah Akhunzada’s early leadership moves will be watched closely by these countries, as well as dissonant voices within the movement, to ascertain what the Taliban does next, in a period of unprecedented challenge for the infamously resilient movement. 

Milo Comerford is a South and Central Asia Analyst for the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics