Some good news for Chancellor Alistair Darling this morning: the Office for National Statistics now thinks the UK economy grew by a massive 0.4% in the last quarter of last year, a whole 0.1% higher than previously thought. It’s been a busy 24 hours for Darling: after his inconclusive TV debate with George Osborne and Vince Cable last night, he got another grilling from the Treasury Select Committee this morning. Nonetheless, for everyone else it feels a bit like the calm before the storm. As Standard & Poor said yesterday (in reminding us that Britain could still lose its AAA-credit rating), it’s all about the Election now...
Remarkably, Darling has been one of the few Government ministers to see his stock rise in the last year – to the extent that he’s now seen as a big electoral asset for Labour (and been guaranteed his job if they win, according to the papers). But despite those revised GDP figures (thanks to higher services, construction and agriculture output, apparently), he didn’t get an easy ride from the cross-party committee of MPs this morning. In particular, Conservative MP Michael Fallon gave him a hard time about the precise impact his proposed NI hike would have on employment – and unlike last night, Darling didn’t have Vince Cable there to gang up on the nasty Tory.
We don’t know about you, but we didn’t find last night’s debate a terribly enlivening affair. Vince Cable may have come out on top in Channel 4’s polling, but in truth, we’re not sure we learned anything we didn’t already know. Darling was solid and credible (apart from his wobble over ‘death tax’) but a bit dull. Cable was clever, but came across as a bit pleased with himself at times (and even more left-wing than Darling - note the ‘pin-striped Scargills’ quip). Indeed, only Osborne really exceeded expectations, and that was only because expectations of him were so low to begin with (perhaps that’s the Tories’ cunning plan?).
Either way, we doubt last night will have a major impact; it felt more like a pre-campaign skirmish than a significant battle in its own right. But at least it marks the end of the phoney war: with an Election likely to be called next week, hostilities are about to begin in earnest. Standard & Poor said yesterday that it would postpone any decisions on the UK’s credit rating until after the Election (to see if whoever wins can come up with a decent deficit reduction plan). Like them, we just wish they’d get on with it now.
In today's bulletin:
Darling celebrates faster recovery after dreary debate
OFT slaps RBS with £29m competition law fine (why?)
Thorley calls time after nine years at the bar
Lack of graduate jobs threatens 'disillusioned generation'
Psychology at Work: Strikes, and the psychological contract