ONS: British economy grew by 0.6 per cent in last quarter

An end to the slump?

The ONS has announced that the British economy grew by 0.6 per cent in the last quarter, sparking suggestions that the economy may be coming out of its slump. It compares favourably to the mini-slump (no longer a double-dip recession) the country was in this time last year, and is the third best quarter Britain has seen since the recession.

Source: ONS

There had been indications that good news was in the offing for a while; at the beginning of the month, a string of positive economic data was released, and with no bank holidays, adverse weather, national events, or anything else to depress the figures, that seems to have held up. But "good news" is relative. The economy remains 3.3 per cent below its 2008 peak:

Source: ONS

The failure to bring the economy back to where it was pre-recession lies almost entirely on the back of the Government. A recent study estimating the effects of austerity on growth found that GDP was 3 per cent lower than it would have been if the Chancellor hadn't attempted to slash the state. That difference works out to £3,500 for every household in the country.

The ONS breaks down the contributions to the figure:

  • All four main industrial groupings within the economy (agriculture, production, construction and services) increased in Q2 2013 compared with Q1 2013.
  • The largest contribution to Q2 2013 GDP growth came from services; these industries increased by 0.6% contributing 0.48 percentage points to the 0.6% increase in GDP.
  • There was also an upward contribution (0.08 percentage points) from production; these industries rose by 0.6%, with manufacturing increasing by 0.4% following negative growth of 0.2% in Q1 2013.

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

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.