The GDP figures for the final quarter of 2013 are out tomorrow morning, and with them will come the usual round of commentary from government and opposition. They’re not expected to be good: Citi predicts that the ONS’s first estimate will show a contraction of 0.1 per cent in Q4. So perhaps that’s why Nick Clegg decided to get in early and taken a shot at his own government’s economic policy this evening.
Speaking to Paul Waugh and Sam Macrory in the House magazine, the Deputy Prime Minister had the following to say:
‘If I’m going to be self-critical, there was this reduction in capital spending when we came into the Coalition government. I think we comforted ourselves at the time that it was actually no more than what Alistair Darling spelt out anyway, so in a sense everybody was predicting a significant drop-off in capital investment. But I think we’ve all realised that you actually need, in order to foster a recovery, to try and mobilise as much public and private capital into infrastructure as possible.’
He then adds that if tomorrow’s figures do suggest Britain is going into a triple-dip recession, one of the big things the government should do is on capital investment:
‘And secondly, wherever we can we’ve got to mobilise more capital investment into productive capital because the economic evidence is overwhelming. It helps create jobs now, people go onto construction sites, it raises the productive capacity of the economy in the longer run.’
It’s difficult not to read this as an attempt by the Deputy Prime Minister to distance himself from the Treasury, which, even in these days of differentiation, is significant. While the Coalition partners are becoming more relaxed at having their own stance on an increasing number of policy areas, they have, until now, continued to make the effort to remain united on the economy, save the odd bit of freelancing from Vince Cable. They repeated that this was their central mission when launching the mid-term review at the start of January. It will be interesting to see whether Clegg’s Lib Dem Treasury colleague Danny Alexander repeats the criticism in the next few days, too.