Thursday News Review

Economy “stagnating, at best”

Superficially respectable growth figures disguise an economy that is stagnating, at best, or even contracting again, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics. Although the economy formally grew by 0.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2011, in line with expectations, this was widely regarded by analysts as confirmation that the underlying recovery is fragile at best, and that the economy has escaped a relapse into a “double-dip” recession only by the narrowest of margins. The figure was also the final confirmation most City observers needed to rule out an interest rate rise by the Bank of England next month. The betting now is on an increase in the Bank Rate in August or as late as November. And growth could yet slow further: the bulk of the Government’s programme of fiscal tightening has only just begun to kick in, while inflation continues to erode the spending power and confidence of families. Firms are also showing caution over investment plans. – the Independent

Outrage over Syria invite

OUTRAGED MPs hit out last night over Syria’s ambassador to Britain STILL being on the wedding guest list. Dr Sami Khiyami’s invitation has not been revoked despite his country slaughtering hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in recent weeks. Labour MP Denis MacShane said it “bordered on the grotesque”. And Shadow Defence minister Kevan Jones warned of a “horrific spectacle” of the diplomat being at the Abbey while there was killing on the streets of Syria. St James’s Palace said the invitation had not been rescinded but a source added: “A final decision will be taken in the next 24 hours.” Libya’s invite was cancelled over its regime killing peaceful protesters. – the Mirror


David Cameron has been accused by Labour of “patronising, sexist, insulting and un–prime ministerial” behaviour after he told a shadow minister to “calm down, dear” in the Commons. Downing Street was forced to issue a “no offence intended” response after Ed Miliband’s office began a round of Labour denunciations of Mr Cameron, who made the comments during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. Michael Winner, the film director and food critic who coined the catchphrase in a car insurance advertising campaign, said that he was flattered that the Prime Minister had mimicked him, and accused Labour of being “politically correct lunatics”. Mr Cameron was defending the Coalition’s health reforms when he rounded on Angela Eagle, a shadow Treasury minister. She had told him that he had got his facts wrong about Howard Stoate, a former Labour MP and GP who has backed the NHS plans. – the Telegraph

The prime minister regularly plays fast and loose with the facts at prime minister’s questions and he got it wrong again yesterday when he claimed that ex Labour MP Howard Stoat had lost his Dartford seat at the general election. It was when I pointed out that he had actually retired, not been beaten, that the prime minister decided to single me out for the Michael Winner treatment by using a turn of phrase no modern man would use to a woman. He was patronising but I have been condescended to by far better people than the prime minister in my time and I can handle it. This wasn’t the first time his mask has slipped when he’s under pressure in the chamber. It reveals a side of him that I suspect his minders would prefer we did not see, because it is so at odds with his carefully constructed “cuddly Cameron” image. It reminds me of none other than Flashman, the appalling bully in Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Flashman’s increasingly frequent appearances at Westminster are now remarked upon even by MPs in his own party. I thought it was instructive that George Osborne thought the remark hilarious, while Nick Clegg sat stony-faced through the whole thing. – Angela Eagle, the Guardian

George joins in

Shelagh Fogarty co-hosts BBC Radio 5 Live’s breakfast show tomorrow for the last time before moving to the station’s lunchtime programme. What will her colleagues get her as a leaving gift? Some chocolates? A bunch of flowers? A fancy card? Uhm, try a message from the Chancellor about erotic dreams. Yep, that’s right. Fogarty revealed in September last year that she had a somewhat intimate dream about George Osborne and, to mark her goodbye, he has given his response. “I just wanted to say it’s sad to be losing you from the breakfast programme but I know you’ll do a great job on the lunchtime programme. It does give you, of course, more hours sleep everyday. More hours for those dreams you’ve been having. And so I’m sure you’ll have sweet dreams and I look forward to being interviewed by you on your lunchtime programme.” – Politics Home

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