60 economists give Darling a reason to smile again
But today's retail figures are a reminder that the economy can still deliver the Tories a victory, says The Mole
Alistair Darling goes into the weekend a happier - not to say smugger - bunny. The two letters to the Financial Times from a total of more than 60 economists backing Darling's course, and rebuking Shadow Chancellor George Osborne for his over-eagerness to cut public spending, are just what the doctor ordered.
The mantra 'It's the economy, stupid' has never been more apposite than in this general election. If Labour can prove to the general public that they have the wisdom to see us through this crisis, and that the desperate duo of Cameron and Osborne risk making matters worse, then they have a good chance of holding onto power.
Darling's argument is simple; start cutting back on public spending too soon and we will see a lot more young people on the dole queue. Wait until 2011 before introducing serious cuts and Britain has a chance of averting a social disaster.
Osborne, on the other hand, wants to start the big squeeze the moment he gets into power (how big an 'if' that is, we'll come to). He has been holding up a letter written to the Sunday Times by 20 economists backing him, which he has taken to be evidence that a consensus of economic experts supports his policies.
Wrong again, Mr Osborne. The two letters to the FT suggest that the majority of economic academics are on Darling's side. (Even Osborne, reviled by many in the City to the point where increasing numbers hope he will be replaced before he gets the keys to the Treasury, can see that 60 trumps 20.)
One letter is led by Lord Skidelsky, a biographer of JM Keynes, and David Blanchflower, the former monetary policy committee member. The second is led by Lord Layard, emeritus professor of economics at the LSE. "For the good of the British people," the letter reads, "the first priority must be to restore robust economic growth".
However, before Darling and Gordon Brown - who will put "securing the economic recovery" at the top of his election checklist this weekend - get too pleased with themselves, there's a glitch.
Retail figures for January, announced this morning, show their sharpest monthly drop in one and a half years - 1.8 per cent down from December. The snow hasn't helped, of course, but there has to be more to it than that.
Coupled with yesterday's news that the Treasury borrowed another £4.3bn in January to deal with the public deficit, it's hardly surprising there are some saying our finances are in little better shape that those of Greece - possibly worse.
It doesn't matter how many economists write comforting letters via the FT, Labour MPs fighting for their futures in marginal seats are going to find "It's worse than Greece" a difficult one to counter on the hustings. ·
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