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Page last updated at 20:53 GMT, Friday, 23 April 2010 21:53 UK

Parties trade blows over 'fragile' economic recovery

Gordon Brown on slowness in GDP growth: "It shows how fragile the recovery is"

The parties have traded blows over the economy after the last growth figures to be published before the election showed the recovery remained fragile.

Gordon Brown insisted only Labour action had prevented the UK sliding back into recession and said his priorities were "jobs, jobs, jobs".

Tory leader David Cameron warned the figures showed the UK could not afford the "paralysis" of a hung Parliament.

But Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said "people, not markets" must come first.

The day after they locked horns in the second prime ministerial TV debate, the three leaders' focus returned to the economy after figures showed the UK grew 0.2% in the first three months of 2010 - less than had been expected.

In other developments on Friday:

Friday's GDP figures are provisional and could be either revised up or down in the future.

However, they were weaker than the last three months of 2009 - when the economy grew 0.4% - and suggest that the economy is struggling to recover from last year's recession - the most severe for more than 60 years.

'Not working'

The Conservatives said the data showed Labour's claim to be slowly steering the economy towards recovery was simply untrue.

Coming days after separate figures showed unemployment rising in the first three months of the year, the Tories said it was clear that only "new leadership" could get the economy "moving again".

"It is good news that the economy is growing but bad news that it is only growing 0.2%," their leader David Cameron said during a visit to a fashion college in London. "We are hardly racing out of the recession".

We are hardly racing out of the recession
David Cameron

Mr Cameron again turned his focus on what he says is the danger of an inconclusive election result after 6 May, which recent polls suggest is a distinct possibility, given the size of the economic difficulties facing the country.

If that happened, the economy could "flounder without leadership and direction", he claimed.

He said: "The indecision and paralysis that would come from a hung Parliament is just what the economy does not need now."

At a press conference in London, the prime minister acknowledged it had been a "difficult few months" for the economy, attributing this to the poor weather in January and February, the end of last year's temporary reduction in VAT and the weakness of European economies.

'Scale of danger'

However, he insisted that growth had been maintained "against the odds" due to Labour's support for employment, training and the car industry.

Speaking later in Coventry, he claimed that - had the Conservatives been in office during the recession - an estimated further 1.7 million jobs would have been lost.

Mr Brown said the economy was still "fragile" and that Conservative proposals to cut £6bn in spending this year would have dire consequences.

"Our economy is too important, our hard-earned recovery is too fragile to let these novices play with it now," Mr Brown added.

The Tories insist by cutting waste they can stop next year's planned National Insurance rise which they say is a "recovery killer".

Chancellor Alistair Darling told BBC Radio 4's The World at One that the growth figures were "very much in line" with his expectations and that he expected the economy to continue to recover if the next government "stuck to the course" Labour had set.

'Dark shadow'

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said the UK was "nowhere near" coming out of the "dark shadow" of the recession and accused Labour of not bringing the banks to account for failing to lend to struggling firms, claiming they were "holding a gun to the head of the rest of the economy".

He said the Tories would remove support for the economy when it was still desperately needed and accused them of suggesting there would be an "armageddon in the markets" if no party won an outright victory on 6 May.

"We should be putting people before the markets," he said.

BBC political correspondent Gary O'Donoghue said the growth figures were a boost for Mr Brown in that there were very real fears of a slide back into recession. But he said the continuing story of the election was the strong poll ratings enjoyed by the Lib Dems.

Meanwhile, at the press conference Mr Brown claimed he could save £1bn from child benefit administration, even though it has emerged the cost of running child benefit is less than £75m.

BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson said: "Gordon Brown simply misspoke, you may think. Perhaps. He did it, however, when asked to be open with people about spending cuts to come".

The three parties have continued to claim victory after Thursday's latest prime ministerial debate, with polls suggesting that it was a more even contest than the first encounter widely perceived to have been won by Mr Clegg.

The final TV debate, taking place next Thursday, will focus predominantly on the economy.

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