Given that the latest statistics show there have been more dips in the economy than at a fondue night, it was appropriate that the Prime Minister and his Chancellor were in Switzerland lately.
They were snapped on a night out having a laugh and sharing a pizza in a restaurant in the swanky Alpine resort of Davos.
But as so often follows a good night out there was a headache the next morning.
On Friday the latest GDP figures were published showing the nation’s economy contracted by 0.3% in the last quarter of 2012. It seems likely the economy will tip back into recession this year for a third time in the space of five years an unprecedented triple dip.
Translated for normal folk, that means the economy is going down the pan.
That’s a problem for a Chancellor who walked into Number 11 Downing Street nearly three years ago, promising to clean up Labour’s economic mess. He’s overseen dramatic cuts across Whitehall and in town halls up and down the country. And what’s he got to show for it? Next to nothing. The economy at the end of 2012 was essentially the same size as at the beginning and is widely expected to go into reverse. Downing Street points to the unemployment figures, which continue to fall. But there are questions about whether that’s because people are finding full-time jobs or because they’re being shunted on to Government work schemes which don’t actually pay but, for political purposes, are counted as employment.
The Chancellor responded to the disappointing GDP figures by saying: “We can run away from these problems or we can confront them.”
What’s he been doing since May 2010 if not confronting these problems? If this is the best he can do he might be better running away. Far away from the Treasury.
If the nation’s economic problems are a snarling demonic beast threatening to consume the country. George seems to have been confronting them with little more than wishful thinking and a drawing of a smiley face.
The irony is that the economy perked up when we did run away from our problems by watching folk running at the Olympics.
Statistics late last year showed a 0.1% growth in the economy largely stimulated by Olympic economic activity including ticket sales, travel, tourism and construction that was lumped into those figures.
It doesn’t take an economic expert (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) to spot that if billions of one-off spending on the Olympics only inspired the smallest possible economic gains, it was highly likely that when the Olympic flame was extinguished the flicker of life in the economy would be snuffed out again, too.
The Prime Minister likes to talk about the UK being in a global race to succeed. If that’s the case then his Chancellor is the coach, responsible for getting us in the best possible shape to win. But the economy is flat-lining and this particular coach is failing to get his star performer out of bed let alone anywhere near the start line.
Worryingly, it seems the trainers might not even understand the rules of the race. In a party political broadcast aired following the PM’s Europe speech David Cameron claimed: “We’re paying down Britain’s debts.”
A fairly cursory look at the statistics shows that’s untrue. He may be working towards getting the debt and the deficit (different things but similarly refusing to bow to the Government’s will) down but for now they continue to climb.
Never mind Cameron’s headline-grabbing European speech promising an in/out referendum unless the economy gets into its stride soon, the Tories are going to run out of laps before the finishing line comes into sight in May 2015.