It has just been confirmed that Britain finally emerged from the recession in the last three months of 2009, but only just. Growth was a paltry 0.1 per cent (economists had forecast 0.4 per cent), a figure so low that after adjustments, the economy could actually still be in recession.
Meanwhile, economists such as our own David Blanchflower warn of a double-dip recession, with VAT’s return to 17.5 per cent hindering growth in the first quarter of this year.
After today’s figures, Labour can persuasively argue that we’d still be in recession now if it hadn’t been for the government’s Keynesian spending boost. But even if growth picks up later in the year (and it’s a big if) the government is unlikely to receive much credit. As I’ve noted before, while voters may blame governments for economic failure, they rarely reward them for recovery.
This intuition appeared to be confirmed by a Channel 4/ICM poll published last night. Only 20 per cent of voters said the government was responsible for helping the economy recover. And while 12 per cent said the end of the recession would make them more likely to vote Labour, 10 per cent said it would make them less likely to do so.
This may not be as counter-intuitive as it seems. In 1945 voters elected Clement Attlee instead of Winston Churchill despite the latter’s wartime feats. Similarly, they may conclude that Gordon Brown, having seen Britain through the economic storm, has no useful role left to play.