Economics

Stockpiles of anti-Brexit economic news running low

BY Iain Martin | tweet iainmartin1   /  10 April 2019

Bad news usually trumps good news. To understand why you only need to think of the pub test and the manner in which, thanks to human nature, bad news attracts more attention than uplifting news.

Picture the scene. In classic English style you order your pint of pinot grigio and thank Dave the barman, before asking after the condition of Steve’s mother’s conservatory which was all but destroyed last week by rampaging pro-Brexit pensioners furious about the extension of Article 50.

Turning to your friends you indicate that you have some news. An eyebrow or two is raised. Steve, not that Steve, another Steve, puts down his packet of dry roasted peanuts. He is bored and keen to hear this alleged news.

You explain that on your evening walk to the pub you saw a bus go very safely along the coastal road. The driver drove very carefully and his passengers suffered no injuries, what with the bus being driven so sensibly. Man and machine were in perfect harmony. All is right with the world.

It is in its way a wondrous human achievement, of course, that bus pottering along the coast road with all the passengers safe.

But it is not noteworthy. It is not in any way unusual or newsworthy.

Now, imagine an alternative scenario. You rush into the pub breathless. On your walk you saw a maniac of a bus driver racing at 100 miles per hour around the bend. He overshot the coast road and ended up with the bus half over the cliff, Italian Job-style. All the passengers were screaming about falling into the sea. What a terrible thing to happen! How will they be saved?

This is news.

Thank goodness you had the presence of mind to start recording the disaster on your smartphone in order that you might post it on Facebook. All your friends in the pub want to see it, and a man from Sky News is in touch on Twitter within minutes asking for permission for the footage to be put straight on air.

This is news in the public interest, and the public will be very interested.

I mention this to illustrate that I do understand the news logic behind the muted response to today’s decent economic news in the UK. The figures were fine – 0.2% up in the first quarter –  and they can be revised later. They weren’t wildly positive numbers. In one sense they were the GDP equivalent of that bus going safely along the road. Nothing to see here.

But…

Expectations were pretty grim in advance. Growth had been expected to flatline. Economists sucked their teeth and prepared for a day of “stop this Brexit madness now” pontificating. In the last week, anti-Brexit commentators explained that the troubling state of uncertainty about the economy vindicated their opposition to the whole project.

There was even talk of epic amounts of “stock-piling” distorting the growth figures, artificially boosting growth as factories load up on components that the EU will block from entry to the UK, keeping supplies stuck in queues in France.

As Guido Fawkes pointed out today, that stockpiling claim doesn’t really explain the 0.4% increase in construction. Are people stockpiling houses and office blocks?

The stockpiling meme has now been downgraded by Remain campaigners, to some vague anecdotes and pictures of People’s Vote activists posing in their kitchens in front of piles of tins of baked beans.

Anyway, the debate on the economic impact is all rather academic now, what with Brexit being stopped, sorry delayed.

Beyond this weird period there are plenty of problems in the British economy, on productivity for example. The Chancellor’s treatment of public services is unwise to the point of being electorally suicidal for his party.

But isn’t it odd? Despite Westminster having its 19th Nervous Brexit Breakdown, and the media hailing the apocalypse with Britain supposedly being in its worst crisis since the 1830s, people got on with their business and the economy still grew. Not bad news, really.


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