David Cameron and George Osborne speak together during a Q&A session at the construction company Skanska on April 22, 2014 in Rickmansworth. Photograph: Getty Images.
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UK economy grows by 0.8% - but how many are feeling it?

The uncomfortable truth is that for most people, the recovery hasn't even begun. 

The run of good news for the Tories on the economy has continued with today's GDP figures. Growth was 0.8 per cent in quarter one of this year (and 3.1 per cent year-on-year), the fifth successive increase and the longest period of continuous expansion since the crash. The economy is now finally within touching distance (0.6 per cent) of exceeding its pre-recession peak with the right poised to boast that Britain is "bigger than ever". But before hanging out the bunting, recall that GDP per head is still almost 7 per cent lower than in 2008 and that the US, which avoided many of George Osborne's mistakes, is 6.3 per cent larger. 

The UK is on track to be the fastest-growing economy in the G7 this year and to surpass France as the world's fifth biggest economy. But again, recall that growth of 1.8 per cent is needed each quarter between now and the election to match the level predicted by the OBR in autumn 2010. 

The belated recovery, combined with the sharp fall in unemployment to 6.9 per cent, has given Osborne a much better economic story to tell. The danger for the Tories, however, as some of their MPs privately acknowledge, is that most people still aren't feeling the benefits. Wage growth excluding bonuses remains below inflation (1.4 per cent to 1.7 per cent) and there will be no rise in real incomes for the millions of public sector workers who have had their salary increases capped at 1 per cent and for those most reliant on state benefits. In a country as unequal as Britain, average wages are no guide to how the middle and the bottom are faring. In London last year, bankers' pay grew nearly five times faster than the pay of the typical worker. 

For most, after six years of falling living standards, it will take more than a few months of growth to make up the ground lost since the crisis. In 2015, as the IFS has repeatedly pointed out, real incomes will still be far below their 2010 level (paving the way for Miliband's Reagan moment). Many in the private sector remain stranded in low-paid, part-time jobs (1.42 million people are working part-time because they can't find full-time jobs) that do not provide enough for them to maintain their family's living standards.

Indeed, based on the RPI measure of inflation (which includes housing costs), the OBR forecasts that wages will be flat until 2019; there will be plenty of people who feel no better off in the next decade, let alone in the next year. The price of many essentials, such as housing, food, energy and transport, continues to rise faster than the general rate of inflation. For all of these reasons, Labour strategists believe that the party's "cost-of-living" attack will retain its potency in May 2015. 

The risk for the Tories is that the more they boast about the performance of the macroeconomy, the more voters will demand "Why aren't we feeling it?" If they are to have a chance of winning the election, they will need a far ambitious plan to restore the severed link between the nation's growth and individuals' living standards. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.