No double-dip recession, just flatlining

Industry, manufacturing and agriculture remain weak, while public sector output grows month-on-month

The think-tank NIESR has released its monthly estimate of GDP (PDF), and the good news is that we don't appear to be in a double dip recession; it estimates GDP grew by 0.1 per cent in the three months to March.

The bad news:

At present the UK economy can best be described as ‘flat’. We expect the UK’s economic recovery to take hold in 2013.

Indexed to 2008 levels, the public sector remains healthy, having grown in output every month in the last year, despite the efforts of the government to "rebalance" the economy. Other areas aren't feeling so strong, though, with industrial output at 90.2 per cent of 2008 levels, and agriculture at 80.4 per cent.

In addition, the ONS released the latest figures on manufacturing today, and Richard Exell writes on them at Touchstone:

Today’s figures for output in the production industries are genuinely disappointing. I wouldn’t emphasise the disastrous Index of Production results (3.8 points down from January 2011) which are quite erratic, so much as the Index of Manufacturing. This is positive (a 0.3 point gain on 12 months ago) but terribly feeble – especially for what is supposed to be one of the bright spots of the recovery.

Construction is not yet the driver of a recovery. Credit: Getty

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
Show Hide image

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.