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0.6% growth is good news - but we should be careful about how we use it politically

By Mark Wallace
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OsborneMore good economic news for the Chancellor, following last week's labour market statistics: the UK economy grew in the most recent quarter by 0.6%.

As we discovered from the false alarm over a double dip, there is reason to be a little wary of such figures. Political and media demand for speedy statistics outstrips the ONS' ability to compile them, so first estimates of quarterly growth like this are never based on the full data - in this instance only 44% of the eventual information was available.

That means it is likely to go up or down a bit in the final reckoning, but it is still good news. That Ed Balls has shifted his attack to the cost of living and the decline of real wages shows that the Osborne's credibility on economic growth has been strengthened.

Conservatives would be wise not to holler too soon about "green shoots" and suchlike, though - the Government's language about healing is carefully chosen in order to avoid two risks. The first is the political risk of appearing celebratory while many still suffer - the economy is still 3.3% smaller than it was at its pre-crisis peak. The second is the economic risk that despite these positive signs a new Eurozone or, worse, BRIC crisis could still strike at economic stability - leaving excessive triumphalism looking rather stupid.

What we should point to instead is the character of the recovery. This is growth across multiple sectors, including construction, manufacturing and services, which is a sharp contrast to the previous trend for the collapse in construction to drag down the overall numbers.

If all continues to go well, over the next two years the Government will have built up an economic story to shout about in time for the election. For now, the good news blunts any attempts by Labour to go on a "Plan B" offensive - and that is welcome in itself.


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