For George Osborne, the man increasingly spoken of as the next Conservative leader, the next 24 hours will prove crucial. The GDP figures for the second quarter of this year will be released tomorrow at 9:30am (Osborne will see them today). And, as I noted yesterday, there are those who think the figures will be bad for the Chancellor and then there are those who think they will be terrible.
No one believes the economy grew by 0.8 per cent in Q2 – the figure Osborne needs to meet the OBR’s growth forecast for the year – with many predicting flat or even negative growth. Citigroup and Scotia Capita, for instance, believe that the economy shrunk by 0.2 per cent over the last three months. With an increasingly assertive Vince Cable calling for further quantitative easing and Ed Balls winning more support for a temporary cut in VAT, Osborne is set to come under greater pressure than ever to change course.
But that’s not all. The Chancellor is also set to be drawn further into the Murdoch scandal. The government is expected to publish details of cabinet ministers’ meetings with media executives shortly (possibly tomorrow), including, naturally, Osborne’s. It emerged over the weekend that the Chancellor flew to New York and had dinner with Rupert Murdoch just two weeks before Ofcom decided whether to refer News Corp’s BSkyB bid to the Competition Commission.
Osborne is renowned as one of News International’s biggest cheerleaders in government. It was him, not David Cameron, who first suggested appointing Andy Coulson as the Conservatives’ director of communications. A string of meetings with News International executives would leave Osborne with a lot of explaining to do.