Why today's GDP figures will give Osborne sleepless nights

The recession leaves the UK's AAA rating in even-greater danger.

In his response to today's terrible GDP figures (the economy shrunk by 0.7% in the second quarter), George Osborne wisely resisted blaming the eurozone, the weather or the Jubilee for the third successive quarter of contraction. Instead, he dwelt on the UK's "deep-rooted economic problems". Britain has many long-term problems - an economy too dependent on finance, a lack of long-term investment, and persistently high levels of youth unemployment - but the charge against Osborne is that he has made them worse, not better.

Today's figures mean that the economy is now smaller than it was at the time of the election and 4.5% below its 2008 peak. Even before the double-dip (and don't say we didn't warn you), the UK, unlike the US, Germany, France, and Canada, still hadn't recovered the lost output from the previous recession. Osborne will hope for an Olympics-led recovery in the third quarter as the lost production from the Jubilee bank holiday is made up. But recent history suggests he would be wise not to count on it.

The deepening of the recession will do little to alter the demands of Labour and Tory MPs but it will amplify them. The problem for Osborne is that the constraints of the coalition and his decision to rule out fiscal stimulus in advance mean that he can offer neither the supply-side revolution that the Tories crave nor the Keynesian boost that Labour seeks. As a result, he has invested much of his hope in greater monetary stimulus by the Bank of England. But with the UK caught in a classic liquidity trap - when consumers are so determined to save that greater availability of credit makes no difference to growth - he is profoundly wrong to do so.

At times of recession, when consumer spending is depressed and businesses are hoarding cash, the state must act as a spender of last resort and stimulate growth through temporary tax cuts and higher infrastructure spending. Yet it is precisely this option that Osborne has rejected at every turn, dismissing well-intentioned critics as "deficit deniers". Today's figures are his reward.

A further consequence of the recession is that it will be even harder, if not impossible, for Osborne to meet his golden rules on borrowing. The IMF, whose prediction of 0.2% growth this year now looks hopelessly optimistic, has already warned that he will miss his target for national debt to be falling as a percentage of GDP by 2015-16. Today's figures leave him even further away from that goal.

While Osborne's arbitrary targets are of little economic importance they are of immense political significance. Should he abandon his debt rule, the UK could lose its AAA credit rating. Standard & Poor's, for instance, has previously warned that our top rating is conditional on Osborne meeting his fiscal mandate. But why should we listen to the discredited agenices that rated Lehman Brothers and AIG as "safe investments" days before the crash? The answer is simple: we shouldn't. But this doesn't alter the fact that Osborne did. Having adopted the UK's credit rating as his metric of success (he once boasted that we were "the only major western country which has had its credit rating improve") he can hardly change tact now.

The UK's AAA credit rating is one of the few emblems of "credibility" the Chancellor has left. Its loss would be a final and possibly terminal blow to his authority.

George Osborne blamed the UK's "deep-rooted economic problems" for the continuing recession. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Ann Summers can’t claim to empower women when it is teaming up with Pornhub

This is not about mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

I can’t understand why erotic retailers like Ann Summers have persisted into the twenty-first century. The store claims to be “sexy, daring, provocative and naughty”, and somewhat predictably positions itself as empowering for women. As a feminist of the unfashionable type, I can’t help but be suspicious of any form of sexual liberation that can be bought or sold.

And yet, I’d never really thought of Ann Summers as being particularly threatening to the rights of women, more just a faintly depressing reflection of heteronormativity. This changed when I saw they’d teamed-up with Pornhub. The website is reputedly the largest purveyor of online pornography in the world. Pornhub guidelines state that content flagged as  “illegal, unlawful, harassing, harmful, offensive” will be removed. Nonetheless, the site still contains simulated incest and rape with some of the more easily published film titles including “Exploited Teen Asia” (236 million views) and “How to sexually harass your secretary properly” (10.5 million views.)  With campaigns such as #metoo and #timesup are sweeping social media, it seems bizarre that a high street brand would not consider Pornhub merchandise as toxic.

Society is still bound by taboos: our hyper-sexual society glossy magazines like Teen Vogue offer girls tips on receiving anal sex, while advice on pleasuring women is notably rare. As an unabashed wanker, I find it baffling that in the year that largely female audiences queued to watch Fifty Shades Darker, a survey revealed that 20 per cent of U.S. women have never masturbated. It is an odd truth that in our apparently open society, any criticism of pornography or sexual practices is shut down as illiberal. 

Guardian-reading men who wring their hands about Fair Trade coffee will passionately defend the right to view women being abused on film. Conservative men who make claims about morals and marriage are aroused by images that in any other setting would be considered abuse. Pornography is not only misogynistic, but the tropes and language are often also racist. In what other context would racist slurs and scenarios be acceptable?

I have no doubt that some reading this will be burning to point out that feminist pornography exists. In name of course it does, but then again, Theresa May calls herself a feminist when it suits. Whether you believe feminist pornography is either possible or desirable, it is worth remembering that what is marketed as such comprises a tiny portion of the market. This won’t make me popular, but it is worth remembering feminism is not about celebrating every choice a woman makes – it is about analysing the social context in which choices are made. Furthermore, that some women also watch porn is evidence of how patriarchy shapes our desire, not that pornography is woman-friendly.  

Ann Summers parts the net curtains of nation’s suburban bedrooms and offers a glimpse into our peccadillos and preferences. That a mainstream high street retailer blithely offers guidance on hair-pulling, whipping and clamps, as well as a full range of Pornhub branded products is disturbing. This is not about women’s empowerment or mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

We are living in a world saturated with images of women and girls suffering; to pretend that there is no connection between pornography and the four-in-ten teenage girls who say they have been coerced into sex acts is naive in the extreme. For too long the state claimed that violence in the home was a domestic matter. Women and girls are now facing an epidemic of sexual violence behind bedroom doors and it is not a private matter. We need to ask ourselves which matters more: the sexual rights of men or the human rights of women?