Triple dip remains successfully avoided in GDP second estimate

Stagnation continues, writes Alex Hern.

The second estimates of GDP growth in 2013 is out, and it is unrevised at 0.3 per cent; the triple dip remains successfully avoided. On top of that, the senior economic advisor to Ernst and Young's ITEM club, Andrew Goodwin, argues that:

It still looks as if Q2 growth will be firm and possibly even stronger than Q1. The monthly data shows service sector output 0.5% above the Q1 average in March and with the production and construction data showing similar trends, this provides a solid springboard for Q2 GDP. Indeed, activity would have to fall back significantly through the quarter to generate a weaker outturn than Q1.

Source: ONS

Even while positive information is coming out about the likely prospects of this current quarter, the picture which is being drawn about the last quarter is getting gloomier. It's becoming clear that the quarter was positive largely due to a contribution from stockbuilding – businesses overproducing in order to build up their reserves. There was little rise in consumer spending, and investment and net exports actually fell.

But a warning. That fact doesn't mean that we were "really" in a recession, any more than the fact that the 2012 double-dip was largely due to declining oil and gas revenues means that that doesn't "really" exist.

Britain has been hovering between positive and negative growth for over a year now. That inevitably means that there will be seemingly-important distinctions which come down to a mere statistical fluke. But that's not a bug of the system, it's a feature: what it tells us its that we aren't in recession or growth, but stuck in that zone we call stagnation. That's been true for too long, and today's figures show no change there. (And yes, you have heard me banging this drum before). As Goodwin concludes:

We are still optimistic that the momentum will build, but this data reinforces the idea that this recovery is going to be a long, hard, slog.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.