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This week’s recession call will be about politics. To the public, the economy’s grim either way

For Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt, an official declaration of recession, however shallow, is yet another dent to their claims that the economy is safer in their hands than Labour’s (PA Wire)
For Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt, an official declaration of recession, however shallow, is yet another dent to their claims that the economy is safer in their hands than Labour’s (PA Wire)

Strip out the “black swan” existential events of the global financial crisis and the pandemic and we have not had an old-fashioned cyclical recession for more than 30 years.

Not since the early Nineties, in fact, when the then Chancellor Norman Lamont insisted “Je ne regrette rien” despite an economic crisis that culminated in the Black Wednesday convulsions of September 1992 and sterling’s ejection from the ERM.

On Thursday we will find out whether Britain slipped into the mildest of recessions in the second half of last year. It is still on a knife-edge, with a majority of City scribes pencilling in a small contraction but a substantial minority reckoning output was flat between October and the end of the year.

No recession is the same and this one — if it happens — has its roots in the rapid reopening of global economies after the Covid lockdowns of 2020 and 2021.

That put huge strain on global supply chains that reawakened the inflation dragon.

The invasion of Ukraine two years ago and the energy price shock that followed hugely exacerbated what was already an alarming prices spike that required central banks around the world to put the interest rate brakes on.

If it happens this time it will be as much a political recession as an economic one.

Most consumers care little whether third-quarter GDP was flat or marginally down. They just know how grindingly hard it has been to make ends meet over the past few years.

But for Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt, an official declaration of recession, however shallow, is yet another dent to their claims that the economy is safer in their hands than Labour’s.

Lord Lamont was known for another colourful phrase — his claim that he was “singing in his bath” after the ERM fiasco. There is likely to be little of that joie de vivre in Number 11 this week.