George Osborne, addressing attendees of the World Economic Forum in Davos, promised to ignore the recommendations of the IMF and carry on with austerity even if the GDP figures for the fourth quarter of 2012 — due to be released today — are negative.
He repeated past comments that the economy was “walking a difficult road, but heading in the right direction”.
That “difficult road” is an increasingly lonely one. The IMF’s chief economist, Oliver Blanchard, warned yesterday that a slow start to 2013 would be a good hint that the chancellor ought to “tone down” attempts to reduce the deficit with haste.
Meanwhile, it is widely expected that the UK will lose its AAA credit rating with at least one of the major ratings agencies. The agencies, while mainly reactionary in how they decide ratings, were frequently cited by Osborne as arbiters of financial responsibility in the first years of his chancellorship. Losing their backing would be a blow.
The range of forecasts for the figures out today spreads from -0.5 to +0.2 per cent. We shall find out the truth in two hours.