Labour's Strategy If The Chancellor Delivers Growth For The Start Of 2012

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How would Labour react to positive economic growth? | PA

At exactly 9:30am on Wednesday the 25th of April, Britain will find out whether it's back in recession. A few people will find out earlier, one of them being George Osborne, who'll get to see the figures ahead of the rest of us.

But the statement by the Office of National Statistics that morning will define the political debate for months to come - and politicians are getting ready for that.

The situation is clearly volatile - the international think tank OECD thinks we're about to plunge back into recession.

Meanwhile the British Chambers of Commerce predict Britain will enjoy a modest recovery of 0.3 percent.

The Office for Budget Responsibility agrees with this prediction, forecasting 0.3 percent growth for the beginning of this year. So what happens if they're right? Or, what if they're underestimating it?

European economic specialist Yannick Naud told us the next quarter's growth figures could conceivably be as high as 0.5%. So how would Labour react if the Chancellor starts 2012 with considerable positive growth - would there be anything to attack?

Former Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson was sceptical when talking to us about it.

"First of all, let’s see if it happens. If it did, it’d be far above the forecast. The strange thing about this Chancellor is we’ve had five budgets or statements. All five times, the rhetoric is, 'we’re going to be doing really well', but the reality is that the economy is worse than the last time he made the statement.

"Every time the economy has got worse. It was kind of shaded up to 0.8%, it was 2.5% a year ago. I've never seen a flagship policy by an incoming government fail so dismally and so quickly. You can't get away from this, all these excuses about what is happening in the euro-zone and all that.

"What they said would happen is unemployment would grow in every year of this Parliament after the 1st year, what they said is the private sector jobs would outstrip the loss of public sector jobs. They said business investment would be the highest we’d ever known, we’d have exports at a level only known in this country once. They promised to get rid of the structural deficit in the lifetime of this parliament! All of this has fallen to pieces, all of it!"

A former adviser to a senior Shadow Cabinet member is more open about the chances of this economic scenario. He makes clear that Labour would, first of all, "cheer any improvement in the economy".

"It'd be an absolute disaster if they looked like they were gloating over a double dip recession", he warns.

Labour would likely focus their future attacks on unemployment figures instead, according to the ex-adviser: "Unemployment has risen for the last 9 months in a row, the OBR thinks that unemployment will peak at 8.7%. There would still be plenty of soft spots for Labour to go on."

"They'll talk about growth over the previous year", the ex-adviser says, "they could still argue that we'd still be flat-lining. Labour would welcome positive growth and say it is good news but we're not out of the choppy waters yet".

This feeling is echoed by Labour's grass-roots. Veteran Labour campaigner Emma Burnell tells The Huffington Post UK that she would avoid putting too much emphasis on these figures.

"I would caution strongly against changing attitude based on one set of figures. Particularly on one initial set of figures which seem to be revised down every quarter anyway.

"It may be 0.5 this time, it wasn't last time, but let’s see what happens next time."

She agrees that Labour would still be concerned about unemployment rates, if faced with seemingly good economic growth. She describes the message they would potentially hammer home as a "jobless recovery".

"We can talk about growth in the economy but that doesn’t mean anything to anyone I talk to. When I talk to people, they haven’t got any extra money. Their wages aren’t going up and their kids aren’t getting jobs.

She added: "It’s recovery for the rich, not a recovery for the rest."

This worry about a "jobless recovery" would be hard to dismiss as just Labour spin. Fraser Nelson, editor of the conservative magazine The Spectator, argued last year that the Chancellor was creating a "jobless recovery".

He warned: "Osborne is presiding over what is – for British citizens – a jobless recovery. The penalty for this is usually paid on election night."

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