Monday, August 01, 2011

Meanwhile, back in the real world....

Once again, the week concludes with phone-hacking back at the top of the political agenda, as MPs discuss a possible fresh grilling for News International's James Murdoch amid more conflicting tales about who knew what and when.

Sure, it's all very entertaining, especially for those of us who have spent years longing to see the Murdoch Empire cut down to size, and in view of his long-standing links with the NI crowd, it remains a potentially toxic story for Prime Minister David Cameron.

But sometimes the inevitable media firestorm around stories such as these can detract from the really big issues facing the country, the ones that affect peoples' lives on a day-to-day level.

And for most people, not least in the North-East, the really big issue remains the fragile state of the economy and its impact on jobs.

The publication of the three-monthly GDP figures on Tuesday saw a brief, almost evanescent shift in the news agenda away from phone-hacking and onto the bigger economic picture.

The revelation that the economy grew by just 0.2pc in the last quarter will have come as no great surprise to anyone who has been attempting to run a business over the course of that period.

If the previous set of GDP figures in April, showing 0.5pc growth, were seen at the time as disappointing, then this week's were truly dismal.

The country may have avoided a double-dip recession – but it has done so only by the skin of its teeth, and there seems no great reason to suggest we are anywhere near being out of the woods yet.

It was tempting to see George Osborne's attempts to pin the blame for the economy's continued sluggish performance on the Royal Wedding as part of a worrying pattern of behaviour on the part of the Chancellor.

After all, this is the man who found himself compared to a rail announcer of yore by blaming April's figures on the winter snows.

But maybe Mr Osborne had a point this time round. The confluence of the late Easter, the wedding, and the May Day Bank Holiday, though no fault of the government's, was scarcely helpful at a time when the economy is struggling to get into gear.

With the two four-day Bank Holiday weekends in succession, the country essentially took a 12-day holiday – helped by a patch of unseasonally warm weather.

For Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, of course, all this is hogwash. The cause of the problem is neither the Royal nuptials nor the weather, but the government's austerity measures which he believes are continuing to choke-off any chance of a recovery.

If Mr Balls is still some way from winning the argument on this, I sense that his calls for a shift of focus from deficit reduction to growth is at least starting to be given a fairer hearing by the public.

And of course, the overall GDP figures serve to disguise the very real regional disparities in growth that exist within the UK – as Institute for Public Policy Research director Nick Pearce pointed out on Tuesday.

"Outside of London, in particular, the recession continues to be felt and the UK economy might as well still be in recession, even if technically it isn't," he said.

But it is not just Mr Balls who is keen to see more measures to stimulate growth. Tory succession-watchers will have been intrigued to see London Mayor Boris Johnson setting out his own alternative economic strategy this week, with tax cuts top of his agenda.

Much as Gordon Brown once did, Mr Osborne is keen to create an air of inevitability around himself as the Prime Minister's eventual successor, but as the man who recommended Andy Coulson, he has been damaged by phone-hacking and his handling of the economy is also coming in for increasing criticism.

Meanwhile Mr Johnson, whose own ambitions to lead the Conservative Party one day remain undimmed, is playing a blinder on both issues, with the countdown to the Olympics only likely to increase his profile still further.

BoJo is on the move. Watch this space.

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1 comment:

G Eagle Esq said...

" ... in the Real World .... for most people, not least in the North-East, the really big issue remains the fragile state of the economy and its impact on jobs ...."

Salve Magister Paule [Hi Mr Paul]

Yes - point well made ....... especially for so many unEmployed who are Old (ie aged over 30) or the Young (ie aged under 30), who can be confident that they will not get Jobs (except by fluke) even after sending 100's of Job Applications


How can so many Journalists have any Belief that the UK has escaped a "Double-Dip Recession" (whatever that Mumbo-Jumbo means) by "achieving 0.2% Growth"

Surely Government Statistics are reliable within 1% (or more), so that a Government Claim of 0.2% Growth" could well be hiding a "Negative Growth" (ie Contraction in Englisch) of 0.8% or more


Isn't part of the Problem that for most OverComfortable Folk that unemployment is NOT a major issue, especially for those in (apparently) secure employment

Remaining your obedient Port-Imbibing servant and

Vale [Ciao]