Friday, 26 October 2012

And then there were the GDP figures..

Despite being rebuked by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority for his early hints about the GDP figures, the Prime Minister would have considered yesterday a very good day. A 1 per cent rise in GDP in the third quarter beat market expectations and was the best performance since the crisis started in 2007. Tied to positive employment, inflation and borrowing news, there is now a sense of momentum building behind the Coalition. The impression is that the pain is starting to yield a real gain, with British growth projected to outstrip that of France and Germany in the next two years.  The Telegraph's leader hailed the figures, arguing that they present Labour with an uncomfortable choice:
"For Labour, this is a difficult moment. In place of a coherent economic policy, it has relied on the absence of growth to justify its call for more spending and borrowing. That fox has now been shot..."
The headline number did not tell the whole story, though. Writing in the
Telegraph, Jeremy Warner argues that despite the "unambiguously good news", a combination of public and household debt means that the road ahead will be long and painful. The Times (£) says there us still no "convincing account of how Britain will, in the long term, earn its way in the world", while on Telegraph Blogs, Thomas Pascoe argues that broken down, the GDP figures show the economy is still dependent on "big finance and big government". There is also the ongoing productivity puzzle. As Samuel Brittan argues in the FT (£):

"Despite David Cameron’s incredibly silly optimistic response to a much predicted Olympics-based short-term variation in quarterly estimates, UK gross domestic product is still 3 per cent below its 2008 peak. Yet there has been virtually no change in employment. As a matter of arithmetic this has involved stagnation in productivity, defined as output per person... On the basis of past relationships, productivity would have been almost 15 per cent higher."

Reservations aside, it was a good day for the Conservatives who had failed to draw the maximum benefit from prior economic statistics. Yesterday, 
a couple of  questions about train tickets aside, the credit was all theirs.

Nick Clegg spoke fluent Dutch in his meeting yesterday with Herman Van Rompuy, the 
Telegraph reveals.  He also spoke the language of Coalition unity. The FT (£) reports that Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron presented a united front in their meetings with the President of the EU, insisting that Britain retains its £2.7bn rebate, and refusing to budge on demands for a freeze in the EU's budget. Quite aside from the British threat to veto a budget rise, the rebate has become a hot issue in Europe given Denmark's recent insistence that it would require a rebate of its own if "rich" nations like the UK continued to receive one.

While talks with Mr Van Rompuy were cordial, the same cannot be said of Britain's ongoing dispute with that other continental institution  - the European Court of Human Rights. The 
Independent reports that Dominic Grieve has chosen to escalate the row over votes for prisoners despite Dave's assertion of a position best summarised as "over my dead body" at PMQs earlier this week. Mr Grieve is a passionate believer in the role of the ECHR, but with the issue now framed as question over "who governs Britain?", he will find it hard to win a sympathetic audience elsewhere in Cabinet.  

Prior to today's announcement of tougher English and Maths tests for teachers, Schools minister David Laws has attacked the "depressingly low expectations" he sees as holding back children in remarks to the
Telegraph. Mr Laws added that modest expectations operate as a "cap on achievement", saying:
"If you think it is really important to get three A*s to get into Cambridge and the City, you will be much more motivated than if you think you just need three Cs to go into the local medium-ranked employer."
Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reforms took on a distinctly Chinese flavour yesterday. The plan to limit benefits after a couple's first two children will only effect new claimants, the 
Independent reports. The stumbling block, as ever, is the Liberal Democrats, who have dismissed the exercise as "Tory kite flying". Writing in the Telegraph, Fraser Nelson adds that the IDS reforms face an even larger obstacle when taken in the round - the client state quangocrats bequeathed him by Gordon Brown:
"Only now, long after the election, do we begin to realise how clever Gordon Brown really was...[He] had a team in Downing Street devoted to appointments in public bodies, carefully building what would become a kind of government-in-exile. And if the Tories tried anything radical – like welfare reform – then Labour’s new fifth columnists would strike." 
Handling the Coalition's badger policy would try the patience of most men, particularly when the cull has already been postponed because, ahem, there are too many badgers living in the areas affected. Given this, Owen Paterson's declaration that he "can't stand any more of this", made as he left the chamber half way through a seven hour debate on a motion to abort the shootings, is perhaps understandable. The Government lost the vote by a large margin, although as the 
Telegraph reports, it has no binding impact on policy. Mr Paterson was said to have been frustrated by the lack of serious debate. Fortunately, the Telegraph's Michael Deacon has recapped the salient points:
"The debate was long but can be easily summarised. Anti-cull: 'The science is on our side.' Pro-cull: 'No, the science is on our side.' Anti-cull: 'No, the science is on our side. Anyway, our proposed solution will cost less money.' Pro-cull: 'No, our proposed solution will cost less money.' And so on."

The vogue for independent inquiries reached its logical conclusion yesterday with Alex Salmond referred himself for investigation under the ministerial code
 after allegations that he lied about receiving formal legal advice onwhether an independent Scotland would gain automatic entry into the EU. More galling still for Mr Salmond is the mockery directed at him from all sides of the house in Westminster. Andrew Lansley told the Commons yesterday that Mr Salmond would be best advised to give up looking for the advice he claimed to have been given and start searching for his credibility. Ouch!

As if the BBC doesn't have enough on its plate, Glyn Davies has turned TV critic:

@GlynDaviesMP: "Newsnight having real problems coping with economic news better than expected. The tieless Paul Mason embarrassing. As was Chris Leslie.

Today's Morning Briefing was edited by Thomas Pascoe.


In The Telegraph

Fraser Nelson - 
Brown's secret army could well doom the Coalition's reforms
Jeremy Warner - 
It's still a long, hard toil to the sunlit uplands
Tim Stanley - 
Why the Simpson's vote counts
Jemima Lewis - 
There's no way to shield chilren from porn
Best of the rest
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian - 
This withering assault on wages is a race to the bottom
Philip Collins in The Times (£) - 
The world will be scarier without America
Samuel Brittan in the FT (£) - 
An explanation for Britain's puzzling economy
Stephen Pollard in the Daily Express - 
Now's the time for Britain to make an exit from the EU

The Future Homes Commission, chaired by British business leader Sir John Banham, will publish the findings and recommendations of its year-long national inquiry into new homes.

Douglas Carswell's European Communities Act 1972 (Repeal) Bill has its second reading.