It may seem like another age now, but it was only a year ago that you couldn’t read a newspaper, or watch a news programme, without seeing George Osborne’s sallow face peering back at you. It was as if he was the poster-boy, not just for Cameron’s ‘brave’ new experiment, but maybe even for the entire Tory party.
But these days there is an Osborne-shaped hole in the news where the Chancellor used to be. The only time we see him is when he pops briefly into view to mumble an excuse as to why the economy is someone else’s fault, before disappearing again in a puff of politics.
A couple of weeks ago, the Office for National Statistics released their latest economic figures. They showed that the UK economy was still shrinking – down by 0.2% in the last quarter of 2001.
They are not entirely unexpected because of what’s happening in the world and what’s happening in the eurozone crisis.
(George Osborne on BBC News)
It’s not much of an explanation, and you don’t have to look far to find other economies facing the same challenges, but achieving different outcomes. The US, for example, grew by 0.7% in the same period.
Osborne will have more opportunities to explain himself over the coming months. The next set of economic statistics will show whether or not the UK has fallen back into recession, the generally agreed definition of which two consecutive quarters of shrinking GDP.
Of course it’s an arbitrary indicator; there’s no particular reason why it has to be two quarters, or why they have to be consecutive. But equally that wouldn’t mean that the underlying economic weakness suggested by a double-dip wasn’t serious, and the main argument against the government’s economic strategy is that it causes, rather than addresses, that underlying economic weakness.
If Osborne disagrees, then he must explain not only why his policies are failing to deliver the growth and recovery he promised, but also why our economy is grinding to a halt, while the rest of the world is getting itself back on track.
Another round of ‘Pop Goes the Chancellor’ simply won’t do.