George Osborne will be delighted with today's figures. Photo: Getty.
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GDP figures may be misleading, but Osborne is benefiting

The UK economy has now grown by 4 per cent in eighteen months. George Osborne may yet be the next Tory leader.

Today's GDP figures show the economy has finally surpassed its pre-crisis levels.

We have taken a look at how such headline figures can be misleading, and the FT has analysed the data in depth.

But the figures are also a reminder of George Osborne's remarkable personal recovery. As we recently reported, Osborne's personal ratings have reversed in the past eighteen months.

The Coalition's economic approval

In July 2013 more than 60 per cent of voters disapproved of the way the government was handling the economy, and only 30 per cent approved.

Now, almost as many people support the government's approach as oppose it.

Economic growth

Recent polling suggests this newfound approval may have stalled, but a growing economy has clearly helped the government recover from its miserable ratings in 2012.

After two years of intermittent and negative growth, GDP has risen more than 4 per cent in the past eighteen months.

Osborne's personal ratings

This has proven to be very good news for Osborne, whose political career appeared dead at the start of last year when the economy stumbled through a fourth quarter of negative growth under the Coalition.

Throughout 2012, fewer than one in eight voters approved of Osborne’s economic plans, and six in ten consistently disapproved of them. Now, one in three voters approve of his approach, and fewer than one in four disapprove – his best ratings for four years.

This a sea change from 2012, when critics encircled the Chancellor.

The "scale and speed and completeness with which things are going wrong are numbing", declared John Lanchester in the LRB. "This was not supposed to happen", blared the Independent. We pointed to Obama’s rejection of "Osbornomics", and a former Bank of England member called for a new strategy in Prospect.

When Fitch, the discredited but newsworthy credit rating agency, downgraded the UK’s rating in April 2013, one of Osborne's justifications for cuts was scuppered. He had pointed to our safeguarded rating three years earlier, as "a big vote of confidence" for "the coalition government's economic policies".

Osborne is only judged by the economy 

His personal ratings move in line with the government’s, and the government’s are largely determined by GDP. 

This shows that there are only four days in the year which should matter to the Chancellor – and they come around with the GDP figures every three months.

Those backing Osborne to be next Tory leader will be quietly gleeful with today's numbers.

 

This is a preview of May2015.com, an affiliated site launching later this year. You can find related analyses here.

 

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

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Ed Miliband on Brexit: Labour should never be the party of the 48 per cent

The former Labour leader has not ruled out a return to the shadow cabinet. 

What do George Osborne, Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband have in common? A liking for a soft Brexit, it turns out. 

But while Osborne is responding to the border lockdown instinct of some Tory Brexiteers, the former Labour leader, along with Chuka Umunna, Lisa Nandy and Rachel Reeves, has to start by making the case to fight for Brexit at all.

And that’s before you get to the thorny and emotional question of freedom of movement. 

Speaking at a Resolution Foundation fringe event, Miliband ridiculed calls to be the “party of the 48 per cent”, in reference to the proportion who voted to stay in the EU referendum.

Remain voters should stop thinking Brexit was a “nasty accident” and start fighting for a good deal, he urged.

Miliband said: “I see talk saying we should become the party of the 48 per cent. That is nonsense.

"I don’t just think it is nonsense electorally, but it is nonsense in policy because it buys into the same problem people were objecting to in their vote which is the old ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’”. 

Remain voters shared many of the same concerns as Leave voters, including on immigration, he said. 

Miliband praised the re-elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s comments that a hard Brexit would be a disaster. He said: “We have to engage in these negotiations.”

Although he said he “anticipated” staying on the back benches, he did not rule out a return to the shadow cabinet, and urged the party to use its newly recruited member, many of whom joined under Corbyn.

Miliband was backed up by Nandy, seen as a rising star of the party, who said there was longterm dissatisfaction with jobs and wages: “You throw freedom of movement into the mix and you create dynamite.”

She also called for Labour to throw itself into Brexit negotiations: “We have been stuck between two impossible choices, between pulling up the drawbridge or some version of free market hell.

“But the truth is we are a progressive, internationalist, socialist party and we can’t afford to make that false choice.”

Reeves, who wrote in The Staggers that freedom of movement should be a “red line” in Brexit negotiations, said: “I don’t buy this idea that people who voted Leave have changed their minds.”

And she dismissed the idea of a second referendum on the eventual deal: “If people voted against the deal, then what?”

But while the speakers received warm applause from the party member audience, they were also heckled by an EU national who felt utterly betrayed. Her interruption received applause too.

Umunna acknowledged the tensions in the room, opening and ending his speech with a plea for members not to leave the party. 

Having called identity politics "the elephant in the room", he declared: “We have got to stay in this party and not go anywhere. It is not just because you don’t win an argument by leaving the room, it is because we are the only nationwide party with representatives in every region and nation of this country. We are the only party representing every age and ethnic community. 

“Stay in this party and let us build a more integrated Britain.”