Five questions answered on the shrinking UK economy

How do the figures compare with what was expected?

Figures released this morning indicate the UK could be heading for another recession. We answer five questions on the latest economy figures.

How much has the economy shrank by?

Figures released this morning by the Office of National Statistics show that the economy, or Gross Domestic Product, has shrank by 0.3 per cent in the last three months of 2012.

In the three months prior to this, the economy grew by 0.9% which is believed to have been boosted by the Olympic games.

This is the first estimate of how the economy performed in the fourth quarter, and is subject to at least two further revisions as further data is collected.

What is being cited as the cause of this latest shrinkage?

The ONS are blaming maintenance delays at the UK’s largest oil and gas field in the North Sea, which resulted in a fall of output from the extractive industries. Mining and quarrying output fell by 10.2 per cent, which knocked 0.18 per cent off of GDP.

Another industry that faired badly in the last quarter is manufacturing which fell by 1.5 per cent.

What does this mean for the outlook of the economy?

This means that the country could be heading for a third consecutive recession. Factors such as heavy snow could also hasten the economy into yet another recession. 

How do the figures compare to what was expected?

The figures are said to be worse than expected. Sir Mervyn King, the Bank of England Governnor, has said he only expects a gentle recovery this year, although now even this is looking increasing unlikely.

The International Monetary Fund did cut its 2013 forecast for British economic growth to 1pc from 1.1pc predicted in October, indicating slow growth in the UK economy was anticipated.

What reaction have economists had to these recent figures?

Jonathan Portes, an economist from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, speaking to the BBC said:

"Underlying it, ignoring all the special factors, what we see is the economy is not delivering the sustainable growth that we would normally see at this point in the cycle.”

He added: "This is due to the [UK] government's policies and the failure of governments in the eurozone.

"They should not have cut the deficit so quickly and before the recovery was sustained."

Meanwhile the Treasury said in a statement:

"It confirms what we already knew - that Britain, like many European countries, still faces a very difficult economic situation.

"While the economy is healing, it is a difficult road."

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for

Show Hide image

Why I’m thinking of joining the Labour Party

There’s a lot to admire in the direction Jeremy Corbyn is taking the party – perhaps it’s time to get involved.

Why I'm leaving Labour”, as Owen Hatherley remarked a few days ago, appears to be the new “why I’m leaving London”. However, aside from a few high(ish) profile departures, the bigger story is the net increase in membership of 90,000 that Labour has enjoyed since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. Indeed, the last few weeks have got me seriously considering whether I should add to these impressive numbers and join the party myself.

For me, one of the most cheering pieces of news since Corbyn’s victory was the convening of an advisory committee to shadow chancellor John McDonnell, including policy and academic heavyweights such as Mariana Mazzucato, Ann Pettifor, Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty. It was a clear indication that some fresh and serious thought was going to be put into the creation of a plan for remaking and rejuvenating the British economy. The early signs are that Labour will be offering a dynamic, high-tech economy of the future, with good pay and job security at its heart, which will stand in sharp contrast to the miserable Randian dystopia George Osborne has been pushing the country into during his time at the Treasury.

Also refreshing has been Corbyn’s use of Prime Minister’s Questions to give a voice to those affected by austerity. Given that our media and political class is disproportionately populated by people from privileged backgrounds, it’s really important that an extra effort is made to ensure that we hear first-hand from those bearing the brunt of these policies. It’s right in principle, and it turns out to be good politics as well. Because apparently many Conservative MPs are too stupid to realise that responding to the concerns of working class people with loud, derisive braying merely provides the public with a neat and powerful illustration of whose side each party is on.

Corbyn has taken a lot of flak in the media, and from MPs on the Labour right, for his response to the Paris attacks. But as someone who researches, teaches and writes on British foreign policy, Middle East politics and security issues, my admiration for the Labour leader has only grown in recent days.  

In the atmosphere immediately after a terrorist atrocity, a discourse emerges where caring about the victims and being serious about dealing with the threat are taken to be synonymous with advocating military responses and clampdowns on civil liberties, irrespective of the fact that fourteen years of pursuing this approach under the “war on terror” has only served to make the problem far worse. At times like these it takes a great deal of courage to articulate a careful, cautious approach emphasising non-military forms of action that address root causes and whose effects may be less dramatic and immediate. Many people were simply not in the mood to hear this sort of thing from Corbyn, but his policies are objectively more likely to make us safer, and I admire him for not being intimidated into silence despite the gallons of vitriol that have been poured on him.

In general, on national security, there is something heavily gendered about the narrative that casts the alpha male Cameron keeping Britain safe versus the dithering milquetoast Corbyn who doesn't understand the harsh realities. We reached the nadir of this stone age machismo during the last election campaign when Very Serious Jeremy Paxman put it to Ed Miliband that he couldn’t have Vladimir Putin in a fight.  After the disasters of the last decade and a half, the time is right to articulate a more intelligent, sophisticated alternative to the expensive, counterproductive militarism of the Conservative Party and the Labour right wing.

The question of whether Corbyn can win an election is certainly one that preoccupies me. He will struggle to attract voters to his right just as Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham or Liz Kendall would have struggled to win back votes Labour lost to the SNP and the Greens. Enthusing and rallying the perhaps 30 per cent of the electorate who are broadly on the left is one thing, but adding the other 6-7 per cent that you need to win an election is another challenge altogether. Corbyn and his team have been on a steep learning curve since their shock victory in September, and they urgently need to clarify their message and improve their media strategy. Almost all the corporate press are bound to remain hostile, but there are ways to provide them with as little ammunition as possible.

More importantly, Corbyn’s team need to find ways of connecting directly with the public and bring them actively into what he's trying to do. In the current anti-politics mood, an opposition party based on a genuine, engaged mass movement could be a formidable force. Initiatives like “Momentum” will need to make quick and substantial progress.

Fundamentally, Corbyn’s Labour has to do what everyone concerned with genuine social progress has had to do throughout history: articulate points of view that go against prevailing orthodoxy, and do so in as persuasive a way as possible. By definition, these are battles against the odds. But you can't win them if you don't fight them. And for me, and I think most people on Corbyn's part of the left, five years of austerity have taken us beyond the point where we can accept the least worst version of the status quo. That prospect has simply become too painful for too many people.

So will I join? I’m still unsure. Without doubt there will be times when the leadership needs constructive, even robust criticism, and as a writer and researcher I may feel more free to articulate that outside of the Labour tribe. But whatever choice I make, the point for me is that this isn’t really about Jeremy Corbyn so much as the wider movement he represents, demanding a real change of course on politics, economics and foreign policy. That collective effort is something I will certainly continue to play an active part in.

David Wearing researches UK-Saudi-Gulf relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, where he teaches courses on Middle East politics and international political economy. He sits on the steering committee of Campaign Against Arms Trade.