Osborne should beware of a triple-dip recession

The government shouldn't assume that "the good news will keep coming".

One can hardly blame the government for seeking to convince voters that today's GDP figures prove that we're "on the right track". Growth of 1 per cent in the third quarter, the highest quarterly growth rate since 2007, is superficially impressive (the bounce back from the bank holiday added around 0.5 per cent, while Olympic ticket sales added 0.2 per cent) and makes it easier for George Osborne to argue that the economy is "healing".

But to borrow Cameron's phrase from yesterday, the government shouldn't assume "that the good news will keep coming". A significant number of economists believe it is possible or even probable that the economy will contract in quarter four (in what our economics editor David Blanchflower has called a "triple-dip recession"). A combination of further spending cuts, rising energy prices, and recession in the eurozone means that growth is likely to remain anaemic or non-existent.

Vicky Redwood of Capital Economics, for instance, said:

As the Olympic effects unwind, it is still possible that the economy contracts again in Q4. Indeed, the business surveys have been painting a slightly gloomier picture, suggesting that underlying output is still stagnating or even falling slightly.

Chris Williamson of the data provider Markit, said:

The government will most likely make the most out of this good news, but unfortunately it is unlikely that the UK will see such a strong performance again for some time. In reality, the danger is that this figure fuels a misguided belief that the economy is on the mend, when in fact there is plenty of evidence to suggest that momentum is being lost again.

There is a real risk that a return to contraction might be seen again in the fourth quarter.

The irony is that a slightly weaker figure in this quarter, by reducing the risk of a slump in Q4, might have suited the government more.

Balloons featuring images of George Osborne at the Conservative conference in Birmingham earlier this month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.