George Osborne is interviewed by readers of 'First News', a national newspaper for children and teenagers, on July 2, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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GDP exceeds its peak - but most are still worse off

The economy may be larger than ever, but for most people the recovery hasn't even begun.

Nearly five years after the recession ended, the economy has finally returned to its previous peak. The 0.8 per cent increase in GDP between April and June means that all of the lost output from the crash has now been recovered - and a little bit more (the economy is now 0.2 per cent larger). We've never had it so good, you might say (as Harold Macmillan did in 1957).

Well, not quite. For a start, it's taken the UK more than four years to reach this point: the slowest recovery since the 1870s. By contrast, the US, where the Obama administration avoided many of George Osborne's errors, is now 6.3 per cent larger. And while the economy is bigger than ever, most people aren't any better off. GDP per capita (which takes into account the growth in population since 2008) is still more than 5 per cent below its previous peak. The cake may be slightly bigger, but there are many more mouths to feed. 

The uncomfortable truth is that, for most people, the recovery hasn't even begun. After briefly drawing level with inflation earlier this year, nominal wages increased by just 0.7 per cent in the three months to May (while prices rose by 1.5 per cent), the slowest rate since ONS records began in 2001. So weak has earnings growth been that average wages aren't forecast to return to their pre-recession peak until 2018, while median wages will take even longer to recover. 

Employment is close to a record high, but too many people are stranded in low-wage, low-skill jobs that don't pay them enough to maintain adequate living standards. For them, even as GDP continues to expand, years of depressed pay lie ahead. It is this that means that while the Conservatives boast about the recovery, Labour's "cost-of-living" attack will retain its potency. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Manchester attack will define this election: Broadcasters have a careful line to tread

It's right that the government should be given a chance to respond, but they must not be allowed to use it to campaign.

Every election campaign has its story, its place in the political history of this country. 2017 will forever be known for Manchester and the horror of the attack on Britain's young; and fighting terrorism will be a theme, overt or underlying, of what we see and hear between now and polling day.

The broadcasters have covered the events comprehensively yet sensitively. But they are aware that we're in an election campaign too; and when other news drives aside the carefully-balanced campaign formats, ministerial appearances give them a dilemma.

The fact is that what the Prime Minister and Home Secretary are doing in response to Manchester is newsworthy. It was Theresa May's duty to implement the recommendations of her security advisers on the elevation of the terror alert, and it would have been unthinkable for the news channels not to broadcast her various statements.

But it is also true that, if the bomb hadn't been detonated, Tuesday would have been a day in which the PM would have been under relentless damaging scrutiny for her u-turn on social care. All the opposition parties would have been in full cry across the airwaves. Yet in the tragic circumstances we found ourselves, nobody could argue that Downing Street appearances on the terror attack should prompt equal airtime for everyone from Labour to Plaid Cymru.

There are precedents for ministers needing to step out of their party roles during a campaign, and not be counted against the stopwatch balance of coverage. Irish terrorism was a factor in previous elections and the PM or Northern Ireland secretary were able to speak on behalf of the UK government. It applied to the foot and mouth epidemic that was occupying ministers' time in 2001. Prime ministers have gone to foreign meetings before, too. Mrs Thatcher went to an economic summit in photogenic Venice with her soulmate Ronald Reagan three days before the 1987 election, to the irritation of Neil Kinnock.

There are plenty of critics who will be vigilant about any quest for party advantage in the way that Theresa May and Amber Rudd now make their TV and radio appearances; and it’s inevitable that a party arguing that it offers strength and stability will not object to being judged against these criteria in extreme and distressing times.

So it's necessary for both broadcasters and politicians to be careful, and there are some fine judgements to be made. For instance, it was completely justifiable to interview Amber Rudd about the latest information from Manchester and her annoyance with American intelligence leaks. I was less comfortable with her being asked in the same interview about the Prevent strategy, and with her response that actions would follow "after June", which edges into party territory and would be a legitimate area to seek an opposition response.

When the campaigning resumes, these challenges become even greater. Deciding when the Prime Minister is speaking for the government and nation, or when she is leader of the Conservative Party, will never be black and white. But I would expect to see the broadcast bulletins trying to draw clearer lines about what is a political report and what is the latest from Manchester or from G7. They must also resist any efforts to time ministerial pronouncements with what's convenient for the party strategists' campaign grid.

There might also usefully be more effort to report straight what the parties are saying in the final days, with less spin and tactical analysis from the correspondents. The narrative of this election has been changed by tragedy, and the best response is to let the politicians and the public engage as directly as possible in deciding what direction the nation should now take.

Roger Mosey is the Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge. He was formerly editorial director and the director of London 2012 at the BBC.

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