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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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.