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Coffee House

Did David Cameron break an embargo on GDP figures?

24 October 2012

1:30 PM

24 October 2012

1:30 PM

Last week David Cameron found himself in trouble after Prime Minister’s Questions over a slip of the tongue about energy bills: this week he’s managed to get himself into trouble over what looks like yet another slip of the tongue at PMQs. The Prime Minster appeared to suggest that tomorrow’s GDP figures, which are under strict embargo, will be good news for the government.

The heat was on for Cameron, as Ed Miliband was performing reasonably well, with some good jokes (including ‘I asked him a question about the railways – I have to say the Chancellor shouts, it’s not the ticket that needs upgrading, it’s the Chancellor of the Exchequer’). So when Miliband told the chamber that the Prime Minister’s ‘crimson tide’ was back and that blame for the ‘shambles of his government’ went ‘right to the top’, Cameron snapped:

‘It’s only a bad week if you think it’s bad that unemployment’s coming down, it’s only a bad week if you regret inflation coming down… every piece of good news sends that team into a complete decline, well, I can tell him, the good news will keep on coming.’

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Labour is now, unsurprisingly, pushing the line that this was a leak of the ONS’ figures. After the Prime Minister had legged it out of the Commons, party sources said:

‘It’s not only shambolic, but wrong for the Prime Minister to hint at tomorrow’s growth figures before they are officially published.’

Number 10 wouldn’t confirm that the Prime Minister is one of the people who saw the GDP figures in advance, although the Chancellor is on that list, and the Prime Minister does have the option to see them, too. The Downing Street line is that Cameron was referring to previous good news, rather than breaking an embargo.  Cameron could well have been simply taunting Ed Miliband that his team will continue to struggle as the government gets on top of important problems. He didn’t refer to any figures at all in his exchanges, which makes it difficult to allege that he broke an embargo when he’s only dropped a vague hint. But as Jonathan Portes points out on his blog, it’s the perception that matters to the markets, and the PM is already well aware of his own rather loose tongue when it comes to secret information.

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