Where is Osborne’s ‘March of the Makers’?

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George Smith

During a recession the temptation for the government is understandably to find GDP growth from anywhere, even if that means ignoring emerging long-term trends as something we can tackle when the economy is stronger. Especially approaching an election, it can be seen as decadent to believe that we economic ‘beggars’ should also try to be ‘choosers’ over what type of economic growth we desire.

However, as a child of Thatcher, what I always admired about the Iron Lady was that even in the darkest economic times, she was willing to not just go after the low hanging fruit of economic growth, but risk more pain in order to pursue the right long-term trajectory for the UK economy.

It is for this reason that the recently announced 0.6% growth in Q2 and the continued fall in unemployment, whilst undoubtedly positive in the short-term, is not unalloyed good news in the long term. Specifically the much talked about rebalancing of the economy to manufacturing and exports is just not happening.

I greatly enjoyed Mr Osborne’s proud declaration in 2011 that his Conservative-led recovery would herald “a march of the makers”. This is not because of some banal grudge at the financial services sector, or a desire to return to a promised golden age when Britain made things. The need to focus on long-term growth in manufacturing is due to the effect of the digital revolution on middleman services like retail.

I was reminded of this recently when I read the speech by Sir Martin Sorrell at last month’s WWP event ‘The Future of Retail. Sir Martin compared the impact of ecommerce on the retail sector to it’s recent devastation of industries like music and newspapers. Those content providing industries had existed as essential middlemen in the pre-digital age, brokering relationships between content creators and content consumers. However just as the UK consumer no longer needs HMV to find its music, or Blockbusters to acquire the latest movies, so all retailers are under threat because their position as essential middlemen for creators and manufacturers is no longer required.

In a world where P&G is selling 75% of its nappies online and direct to consumer and even my dad has his own eBay shop, it is not clear to me that most manufacturers will need retailers in the future to reach consumers. Over recent decades many western economies have profited from high-margin ‘value added’ services like retail, where products have been manufactured abroad in low-cost countries, but sold to a local western market through British retailers who profit from the scarcity of physical high-street stores. So whilst competition on the high-street was fierce, prices were higher due to the need to have a british based retailer with a physical location, but digital technology and ecommerce changes all that.

HMV was one of the early casualties of ‘Showrooming’ the term used to describe the common act of customers browsing their in-store stock of music, games and DVDs, only to then purchase the item cheaper on Amazon, eBay or other online providers. With a recent report estimating that 63% of smartphone owners check prices online while in-store this trend for ‘Showrooming’ is set to only get worse for retailers. Whereas once high-street retailers could demand a high-margin profit because they owned the physical stores, now these physical retail spaces are the deadweight overhead that is destroying their cost model.

In the years to come the Left will inevitably argue for the protectionist measures required to ‘Save our high street’ but not only does economic protectionism not work, it will be impossible in this case because the internet is a global market, not a British one.

The naysayers will argue that British manufacturers cannot compete on price with low-wage countries like China, but this is also to miss the awesome potential of technologies like Additive printing (a.k.a. 3D printing) which will turn manufacturers away form needing to ‘own the means of production’ and increasingly towards ‘value-adding’ design, innovation and creative skills.

The UK with its creative, educated and high-cost workforce can dominate global manufacturing if it has the vision to recognise that when our economy recovers from this current recession it will be existing in a reality that has been reshaped by another industrial revolution.  Hence the future will not look like the past and if Britain grabs just any economic growth on offer instead of trying to rebalance the economy towards manufacturing and exports then it will be the ‘march of foreign makers’ that trample over this nation of shop-keepers.

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Growth, expectations, and confidence are all on the rise

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Daniel Cowdrill

It’s all about confidence.

The importance of ‘confidence’ in economics was articulated in The General Theory by John Maynard Keynes. He set out what he termed the ‘marginal efficiency of investment’, or the expected return on investments. As it is difficult for individuals to rationally calculate future returns, ‘confidence’ becomes a key factor in investment decisions.

In the debate that raged over austerity, it was argued that reducing public spending when the economy was fragile would damage confidence. In an interview, the economist Paul Krugman predicted that austerity would fail to instill confidence and condemn the economy to an “endless slump”.

A string of positive economic results, culminating in a 0.6% expansion in second quarter GDP, has made the arguments of critics like Krugman less plausible. They perhaps failed to take full account of the context surrounding the Coalition’s deficit reduction plan.

In May 2010 the UK was running a public sector borrowing requirement of over 11% of GDP. This was an unprecedented figure and part of rising defictis across the West. Bond yields rose dramatically across the Euro zone with financial bailouts being sought by Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and the economies of Spain and Italy facing significant pressure. 

The Government was therefore right to secure the medium-term trajectory of the public finances to increase confidence in the near term. To do this the other way round, to try to build confidence before consolidating the public finances, would have been like building on quick sand. Fortunately, it also placed the UK ahead of the curve in Europe.

When Moody’s and Fitch downgraded the UK’s triple A, Osborne was widely criticised for placing too much emphasis on defending it. However, we arguably retained the Triple A long enough to make its eventual loss less damaging. It should be noted that we still retain three As with one of the major credit agencies.

Businesses have therefore enjoyed a relatively benign environment in which low interest rates have stimulated growth, and in which the main banks have had time to improve their capital positions. It has also given the Government some latitude in terms of the scale of cuts, and in terms of the public debt target which has been postponed without unnerving the markets. 

It is a little known fact that the Great Depression in Britain was not as bad as it was in the United States. In fact, after a period of austerity, Britain enjoyed steady growth through the 1930s. In 1934, Neville Chamberlain was able to tell the Commons, “We have now finished the story of Bleak House and are sitting down this afternoon to enjoy the first chapter of Great Expectations.” 

It is premature to say the same, but for now we have rising expectations and renewed confidence. This in itself, is no mean feat.

George Osborne’s credit is running out

David Cowan 2.00pm

The Osborne brand has been heavily devalued since George Osborne’s politically disastrous budget. It initiated the ‘omnishambles’ of the past few months which was then followed by a ridiculously long set of U-turns over taxes on pasties, caravans, charities, heritage, and petrol. After weeks of government ministers loyally defending the budget these policies were swiftly and unceremoniously ditched with little or no notice. Often these announcements came within days of each other with the consequence that loyal ministers and MPs had been made to look incredibly foolish.

Just think of Chloe Smith on Newsnight after George Osborne announced that the autumn increase in fuel duty would not go ahead. Even the Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening – a loyal Osbornite by all accounts – was kept in the dark about the change of policy. The U-turn over fuel duty was perhaps the most misjudged as it still managed to backfire on George Osborne as that very same morning Ed Balls had called for such a change of direction in The Sun. As a result it looked more like a victory for Ed Balls and another wobble from George Osborne. Many in the Conservative party now see him as “too damaged” to be a credible successor to David Cameron.

Last week Osborne made his bid to regain some of his credibility as de facto Chief Strategist of the Conservative party with a provocative interview in The Spectator where he claimed that Labour aides were “clearly involved” in the Libor scandal, but without mentioning names. When it resulted in a clash in the House of Commons debate that very same day Ed Balls exclaimed “He has impugned my integrity in The Spectator!” It was a very partisan performance delivered in order to boost Conservative MPs’ confidence in him. George Osborne may appear to have done this by securing a parliamentary inquiry into the banking industry, instead of a judicial one, which will undoubtedly question Ed Balls and the other architects of the faulty regulatory system which helped precipitate the financial crisis in 2008.

But to many Conservatives the parliamentary exchange between George Osborne and Ed Balls looked like a sordid display of petty politics- not statesmanship. While it is of course important that Ed Balls et al are made accountable for their disastrous policies, there is still a feeling that George Osborne is far too focused on playing politics instead of doing his job. If this perception dominates how the electorate see him at a time when Britain has gone into a double-dip recession, the Eurozone crisis is engulfing the continent, 2.61 million people still unemployed, and the Bank of England printing money like there is no tomorrow, then the Osborne brand will continue to decline in value.

Within the wider context of the various deficiencies in George Osborne’s economic and financial policies, this run on his credibility is only going to continue. His plan for growth is far too heavily dependent on a policy of cheap credit from the Bank of England and fiscal stimulus from the Treasury (see my article on last year’s Autumn Statement) and clearly is not working. Another problem is that his deficit reduction plan has so far been implemented through tax rises while spending cuts will not actually start to bite until the eve of the next general election and will continue into the next parliament. It is now very likely that on polling day in 2015 the electorate will still be feeling the pinch of meagre growth, rising cost of living, and harsher spending cuts.

A wealth of radical policies for growth has come from across centre-right politics. Conservative MPs have set up groups like the Free Enterprise Group, 2020 Conservatives and The Growth Factory in order to formulate new policies to liberalise the economy. Numerous think tanks have delivered fascinating reports on boosting growth, like the Institute of Economic Affairs’ ‘Sharper Axes, Lower Taxes’, the Centre for Policy Studies’ ‘Small is Best’ publication and helpful infotoon, and the TaxPayers’ Alliance’s 2020 Tax Commission Report. They are all calling for the same spirit of Tory radicalism which has been advanced by Michael Gove and Iain Duncan-Smith, with a clear economic plan based on larger spending cuts, lower taxes, deregulation and sound money.

It is of course difficult for Osborne to recalibrate his economic and financial policies more firmly in this direction because of the Liberal Democrats. But this then begs the question of what happened to ‘Orange Book liberalism’ which was so superbly articulated by David Laws? The coalition seems to baulk at every opportunity of providing a more robust plan for growth. Instead we have seen streams of micro-initiatives put forward while radical policies, like the Beecroft Report’s proposal for making it easier for employers to hire and fire employees, get side-lined. Policy making has become a zero-sum game in which decisions are prevented from happening whilst civil servants are left to their own devices with disastrous consequences, like in this year’s budget. The coalition simply cannot function without an effective policy machine with both parties contributing to new economic radicalism.

George Osborne is undeniably a political animal. He has had numerous political coups like in 2007 when his inheritance tax cut pledge helped spook Brown into bottling the election, but there is a serious job to be done. If we are going to see an effective plan for growth based on spending cuts, lower taxes, deregulation and sound money which has the support of both coalition parties then George Osborne has to focus, otherwise the blood of electoral failure in 2015 will be on his hands.

Follow David on Twitter @david_cowan

It’s time to get on board High Speed Rail

Sahar Rezazadeh 6.00am

Like many decisive policies, the High Speed Rail link has received plenty of criticism and praise from all angles.

On the one hand, some oppose HS2 for being noisy and disruptive, and for failing to make good business, economic or environmental sense.

On the other hand, it is believed to be a vital investment in Britain’s future and paving the way for regeneration of Britain’s ailing infrastructure in order to assist growth, as David Cowan mentioned on these pages.

Critics and sceptics of HS2 have raised a number of alternatives - see here from Nik Darlington - but would they actually fulfill the prime objectives of High speed 2?

One of the principal objectives of HS2 is to provide additional transport capacity to cater for growth in demand, outlined by Stuart Baldock. Forecasts suggest that in 2043, approximately 136,000 passengers would travel on HS2 each day (46.2 million each year) on the section between Birmingham Interchange and Old Oak Common. Of the people forecasted to use HS2, 65 per cent would switch from existing rail services, 7 per cent from cars, 6 per cent from the air, while 22 per cent would be entirely new.

Furthermore, research by KPMG reported that HS2 would generate 22,000 jobs for the West Midlands and increase the region’s economic output by £1.5 billion per year.

The Institute of Civil Engineers’ (ICE) response to the Department for Transport’s consultation was positive, outlining some of the key benefits of the Curzon Street Terminus in Birmingham. HS2 would act as a catalyst for the development of the Eastside Quarter of Birmingham City Centre, which is currently derelict industrial land and buildings.

HS2 will not only benefit London, as has been suggested by critics.

The ICE went further and said that a full ‘Y’ route would lay the foundations for a High Speed Rail network, improving connectivity and integration between major British cities and the European rail network.

A recent survey by Birmingham City Council found that the majority of residents living along the proposed new High Speed Rail link route in Birmingham are in favour of the scheme. More than half of respondents are in full support of the scheme and a further 8 per cent supported it but with qualifying comments.

There is a demand for HS2. My feelings are that the benefits far outweigh the costs and Britain’s infrastructure and particularly transport infrastructure has been lagging behind.  I say it’s time to get on board!

Follow Sahar on Twitter @SaharRezazadeh

In not cutting taxes and allowing high inflation, the Government is holding back growth

David Cowan 7.45am

On Tuesday the ONS revealed that growth for the last quarter was only 0.5 per cent. Many were expecting the figure to be lower, especially after only 0.1 per cent growth in Q2, but this meagre performance is still a serious cause for worry.

This may be unsurprising given the current global financial storm, the latest Eurozone bailout package being at threat by a Greek referendum and the lack of a credible plan from President Obama and Republican presidential candidates. However, this does not mean that the UK is powerless to boost growth. In fact, the Government is pursuing policies that are harming growth.

The most irresponsible is the Bank of England’s second round of quantitative easing (QE2). The de facto printing of money to the tune of £75 billion will not boost growth, but only exacerbate the already dangerously high level of inflation at 5.2 per cent. There is nothing progressive or compassionate about allowing the ‘inflation tax’ to put further pressure on the poorest people in the country at a time when real wages are not increasing. We cannot inflate our way out of our problems. The Government must realise that we need capital accumulation based on real savings for investment into British businesses instead of cheap credit at the heavy cost of rising inflation.

The Government’s growth strategy also seems to be too heavily weighted towards investment programmes. While it is certainly desirable that the Government should invest in more science R&D, education, apprenticeships and expanding the broadband network, there are some potential ‘white elephant’ projects that should not be pursued.

The biggest one is High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) which is based on Labour’s original badly planned route, has £28 billion worth of hidden costs and leaves our current infrastructure in its present decrepit state. The £1 billion Regional Growth Fund is also another futile attempt to get growth going and will actually destroy jobs.

Businesses are still having to pay higher taxes, which the state then inefficiently redistributes to areas which are already heavily dependent on hand-outs. Growth will not come from a Keynesian style ‘multiplier effect’. The focus should be on tackling the true restraint on growth: high taxation.

The 50p tax rate remains, despite it losing £4.5 billion and driving businesses away. National Insurance Contributions (NICs) are penalising job creation and have caused perverse income tax rates. The 10 points increase in Capital Gains Tax (CGT) will only prevent the capital accumulation we so desperately need for real investment in the private sector. Green taxes are already making up 20 per cent of every household’s energy bill.

On top of this, new taxes have been arbitrarily levied on banks and energy companies with little or no warning thus causing uncertainty. It is time for real action on reducing and simplifying our unnecessarily long tax code which is punishing enterprise and the poor.

Tax cuts can largely pay for themselves, as optimal levels are reached and increasing growth will boost revenues. However, there will need to be some spending cuts to soften any loss of revenue which may occur. I would suggest scrapping HS2, which will save £30 billion, dismantling the Green Investment Bank and Regional Growth Fund, which will save a further £4 billion, and abolishing the Department for Education (as I have previously suggested here).

The Government is contending with a turbulent economic climate and the legacy of Gordon Brown, which has left the UK heavily indebted and uncompetitive. There have been bold moves to tackle this, such as the deficit reduction plan, liberalising employment law and planning regulations, and education and welfare reform. However, there has been no attempt to deal with the key threats to economic prosperity for all, especially the poorest: rising inflation and high taxation.

It is essential that George Osborne tackles these twin dangers if he wants to regain the Conservative party’s reputation for economic competence and social compassion.

Follow David on Twitter @david_cowan

George Osborne’s strategy is to show that Britain is open for business

Matthew Robertson 6.04am

This is the second in a series of Egremont contributors’ entries to Fraser Nelson’s Coffee House competition, with a prize of a bottle of Pol Roger for the best explanation of George Osborne’s growth strategy.

A man checked into a hotel for the first time in his life, and goes up to his room.
Five minutes later he called the reception desk and said: “You’ve given me a room with no exit. How do I leave?”
The desk clerk said, “Sir, that’s absurd. Have you looked for the door?”
The man said, “Well, there’s one door that leads to the bathroom. There’s a second door that goes into the closet. And there’s a door I haven’t tried, but it has a ‘do not disturb’ sign on it.”

This is the dilemma facing the Chancellor at this crossroad for the UK economy: regardless of which door he opens he is still in the same room of a stagnant economy.

Open door #1 and rebalance the economy between public and private sectors which will involve cuts affecting people’s everyday lives; open door #2 and cut taxes to keep the City of London competitive and risk creating another bubble; or open door #3 and ease up on the austerity measures which could disturb the financial markets.

Of course all of these are not mutually exclusive of each other - the answer lies somewhere between the bathroom and the exit via the closet door. Despite consistently iterating that the number one priority of the Government is to reduce the deficit, the Chancellor has long acknowledged that a growth strategy is of essential importance as well.

The fundamental thinking of Osborne’s growth strategy is credit. Businesses need credit to invest and grow, which in turn means more hiring leading to greater employment and increased confidence. The reason the Chancellor always returns to the deficit when asked about growth is confidence. Confidence is what makes businesses invest and individuals spend and this is the integral building block of growth.

Running a tight fiscal policy with low interest rates has allowed the terms of trade for our businesses to improve substantially with the rest of the world. This had to be the starting point for growth.

Moving on from that position, the Government has announced numerous measures to help businesses develop and grow.  The Regional Growth Fund is a £1.4 billion fund operating over three years to galvanise private sector-led employment and economic growth. The aim of this is to secure an economy that is more balanced between private and public sector, as well as harmonise growth across different regions of the UK.

Another policy to enable growth is prioritising investment in infrastructure, which has been demonstrated by the increase in capital spending of £2.3 billion in the 2010 Spending Review, and investing over £30 billion in transport projects.

All of this has already happened and could not have happened without the bedrock of a stable fiscal position. These policies are examples of an underlying strategy from the Chancellor to create jobs in the economy whilst preserving the key ingredient: Confidence.

So where will this confidence come from and how do we find the door for the exit without disturbing low interest rates and a sound fiscal position?

There is no easy answer to this question but the Chancellor has a strategy and has attempted to answer it.

Firstly, he has introduced new Enterprise Zones to stimulate private sector led investment. Through the tax system he has incentivised investment by extending the capital allowances short life asset regime for plant and machinery from four years to eight years and provided £180 million for up to 50,000 additional apprenticeship places.

These are confidence measures targeting areas, business and individuals. Critics will say these measures do not go far enough but every one of these policies boost confidence in the real economy without hindering the financial markets. The Chancellor’s strategy is not risk free or easy but is an attempt to steer the UK economy out of the hotel room he was given with as little disturbance as possible.

The strategy is plain and simple: stop the negativity, get up and show the world that the UK is open for business and use the fiscal position we have to build a better and more balanced economy. If only we could find the keys.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @FlatFootTory

George Osborne is a Man with a Plan

David Cowan 6.00am

Last Wednesday, Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, offered the prize of a bottle of Pol Roger to the person who could best explain George Osborne’s growth strategy. Herein David Cowan’s contribution. If David wins, he’ll get a second bottle of Sir Winston’s favourite bubbly from us at Egremont. Good luck!

George Osborne is a man with a plan. He is also a Conservative Chancellor in a coalition government at a time of financial turmoil not seen since the 1930s.

However, he is also a shrewd political operator, who managed to use his Inheritance Tax pledge to call Gordon Brown’s bluff in 2007 and opposed Alistair Darling’s NIC increase in order to give the Conservatives some momentum in 2010. George Osborne has managed to construct a growth strategy which accommodates the Liberal Democrats, includes political electioneering for a Conservative majority in 2015 and will hopefully rebuild the British economy.

The absolute bedrock of his growth strategy is to keep long-term interest rates low. That is why he is trying to eliminate the structural deficit by 2015 in a way which is fiscally responsible, i.e. through public spending cuts and modest tax increases. Keeping interest rates down will ensure that people can still borrow at German style costs while the country has a Greek style debt, and so the markets will maintain their confidence in Britain as a safe haven.

Dovetailing with his efforts to keep long-term interest rates low George Osborne has been trying to get credit flowing back into the British economy. The Bank of England’s second round of quantitative easing (QE) and holding the bank rate at 0.5 per cent represent a large part of this. However, George Osborne has also managed to contribute by pulling off the major Project Merlin deal with the banks in order to get them lending again.

However, it is not just the deficit which George Osborne has inherited from Labour. After 13 years of Labour misrule Britain has fallen to 22nd in the world ranking of the most competitive countries. The Chancellor is now on a crusade to put Britain back at the front of the pack.

This has led to serious efforts at supply side reforms which include cutting corporation tax to the lowest rate in the OECD, introducing the zero-rating of business rates in 21 new enterprise zones and simplifying the longest tax code in the civilised world. The coalition government has also introduced a new ‘Employer’s Charter’ as part of a Whitehall review of employment legislation, the ‘one in, one out’ rule is in place, small businesses are being exempted from domestic regulations for the next three years, and our antiquated planning system is being radically reformed.

Another part of this crusade to create a new ‘enterprise culture’ is to regenerate Britain’s ailing infrastructure and maintain the capital investment which will help sustain small businesses and create jobs. Obvious examples include High Speed Rail 2, Crossrail, and the extension of the broadband network, all of which will help to integrate all of Britain’s regions into a more balanced economy. Human capital is also being nurtured by the 500,000 new apprenticeships, new vocational training centres, more schools and greater science development.

George Osborne’s growth strategy is also ensuring that it is the least well-off who have more money in their pockets and that the rich pay their fair share during this ‘age of austerity’. That is why the personal allowance is being increased, Council Tax is being frozen again and fuel duty was cut, while the 50p tax rate is staying, capital gains tax was increased and new taxes have been slapped onto big banks and oil companies. As for the controversial VAT increase, it is a necessary measure which will raise more revenue, at a minimal cost to the economy, for paying back the debt and protecting the schools budget and real terms increase in NHS spending.

George Osborne’s strategy for growth is a clear and coherent set of policies based on the need to encourage a new competitive ‘enterprise culture’ by providing low long-term interest rates and cheap credit, a vibrant national infrastructure, lower business taxes and less red tape.

The Liberal Democrats have placed serious restraints on the options available to him, but if he successfully manages to deliver a healthy economic recovery in 2015 then he will be able to grant the generous tax cuts which many are calling out for now and gain all the credit in the process. This is a pragmatic and solidly fiscal conservative strategy which will pay off if George Osborne stays the course amid the current financial storm.

And if he is very very lucky.

Follow David on Twitter @david_cowan

PMQs: Amid the cacophony, a curious silence

Jack Blackburn 1.26pm

It has been sports day in the Commons today: a spot of Fox-hunting followed by some statistics-tennis.

Edward, once again like a child in a sweet shop, didn’t know which topic to choose and so plumped for two, latching onto the Fox-Werrity scandal, which he let lie last week, and then going back to his favourite activity of talking in vague terms about the economy.

Mr Cameron stood wearily at the dispatch box yet summoned enough energy to be exasperated at the adenoidal interrogation coming from the other side - and frankly couldn’t be bothered to answer most of the questions. Edward asked how Mr Cameron allowed the scandal in the MoD to happen. Dave pointed to the inquiry and didn’t answer the question.

“Show a bit of humility, eh?” sniffed Edward, to an unsurprisingly raucous response from all sides. Alhough he went on to ask for a guarantee that no other Minister was in cahoots with similar flabby cheeked friends in morning suits, his plea for humility provided the PM with a smokescreen that Mr Cameron used in order to avoid answering the question, bluntly reeling off all the matters for which Labour should be humble, most of which came from Stephen Byers’ greatest hits.

Edward, his first sweet having turned out to be a bitter and rather infuriating piece of liquorice, raised the ghost of Coulson and asked whether this Government really was different. Mr Cameron, who had been uninterested with this line of questioning when it started and by now was so bored by it that he veritably slumped his way back to the microphone to inquire as to whether the Leader of the Opposition had noticed that Mr Fox had resigned, and in a tone of disbelief told poor Edward, “You’re just a bit late.”

After a brief break, Edward calmed himself and went for sweet number two, which he thought was his favourite toffee, the economy. “Highest unemployment since the last Tory government”, he cried. “Highest inflation since the last Tory government”, he continued. “Back to the future”, a backbencher quipped.

Having used the National Insurance holiday embarrassment last week, this time Edward went with the Regional Growth Fund. How many businesses had taken this up?

The Prime Minister did not know the specifics, and Edward leapt on this, his schoolboy “charm” coming right to the fore as he revealed that two businesses had been helped in the last 16 months, while 16,000 had gone bust. “All we have is a Prime Minister who is hopelessly out of touch”, he snorted before sitting smugly back down.

Surely, this time he’d won? Surely, he’d embarrassed the Prime Minister and had deployed enough figures to win the rally of statistics tennis?

But Dave, an accomplished tennis player, had stats of his own. “All he wants to do is talk down the economy”, he growled toward the Labour Leader, before saying that since the election, we now had 300,000 new business and 500,000 people with new jobs.

Having been on the back foot for twenty minutes, Mr Cameron suddenly advanced on his opponent, who was now out of questions and defenceless, save for a wildly gesturing Ed Balls telling the PM to calm down. “Where is his plan?” shouted the PM, as the Speaker interjected for order again and again.

Yet, strangely, through all the cacophony of claim and counter-claim, once again there really was nothing but silence: a curious noise, full of words, and figures, and signifying nothing.

Follow Jack on Twitter @BlackburnJA