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Politics Live blog + PMQs: Wednesday 25 January 2012

Rolling coverage of all the day’s political developments as they happen, including the release of the growth figures and David Cameron and Ed Miliband clashing at PMQs

9.56am: Here’s the top of the Press Association story on the growth figures.

The UK’s economy suffered a worse-than-expected 0.2% contraction in the final quarter of 2011, it was revealed today, fuelling fears of another recession.
The Office for National Statistics’ first estimate for the figure marks the first time the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen since the final quarter of 2010 when the Arctic weather was blamed for a 0.5% drop. The City had expected a decline of 0.1%.
The contraction was driven by a 0.9% fall in manufacturing, a 4.1% drop in electricity and gas production as the warm weather caused people to turn down heating, and a 0.5% fall in the construction sector, while the powerhouse services sector ground to a halt.
There is also likely to have been a small impact from the public sector strikes on November 30, when nearly a million working days were lost.

9.49am: Sorry for the silence. My computer crashed. It was obviously the shock of hearing that the economy is shrinking.

Here’s some instant reaction from Twitter to the growth figures.

From Sky’s Ed Conway

HMT official: “GDP disappointing but not unexpected given eurozone crisis. … IMF last night explicit that UK should stick to deficit plan”

From Sky’s Joey Jones

Ed mili will need to be careful not to look gleeful at negative figures in pmqs

From the TUC’s Duncan Weldon

Contraction much more worrying than Q4 2010 contraction which was effected by special factors so GDP bounced back in Q1.

From ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie

Growth figures are sad confirmation that govt has programme for long-term economic reform but is doing little to help economy now.

From the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour

Manufacturing, electricity and gas the chief culprit for slowdown. Government services up ( mainly health).

From the BBC’s Robert Peston

Important to remember that GDP figures are historic. It is anecdotal, but business leaders are less gloomy today than they were before Xmas

9.33am: The ONS are holding a press conference about the growth figures. You can follow the detail on our business live blog.

9.31am: Here’s the Office for National Statistics bulletin (pdf) with full details of the GDP figures.

9.30am: GDP for Q4: -0.2%

9.25am: Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, was on the Today programme this morning, taking part in one of the first major interviews he has given since he resigned from the cabinet last year over the Adam Werritty affair. He was invited on to talk about Iran and he showed that resignation hasn’t done anything to curb his hawkish tendencies.

I think there are three reasons about why Iran should not become a nuclear weapon state. Number one is the nature of the regime itself, and their records internally and externally. Second is their willingness to use others as proxies to pursue their foreign policy, whether that’s states like Syria or groups like Hamas.

The major reason is that if Iran becomes a nuclear weapon state, it will trigger a nuclear arms race in that region. We would be off and running in a dangerous nuclear arms race in possibly the most unstable region in the world.

But he was also interesting talking about life as a backbencher. Resigning seems to have some advantages. I’ve taken the quotes from PoliticsHome.

I still am drawing my own conclusions and I am not going to leap to any. I am still thinking about the events and responses and so on and I will continue to do that. I have rediscovered the benefits of sleep and lunch which are enormously helpful in making such reflections.

I have also realised how incredibly pigeon-holed you can become in departmental politics and recognise the scale of what is going on outside which is quite hard to do if you are focussing on a cabinet job. Every downside has an upside. It it very easy … not to realises the changes going on in health or education. To to get your head around the wider picture is quite fascinating.

9.17am: Yesterday Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, accused the select committee that scrutinises his department of not having any evidence to support claims in a critical report about his health reforms. Today another cabinet minister is having a go at a select committee. Philip Hammond (left), the defence secretary, has accused the defence committee of being “simply wrong”. Hammond was talking about the committee’s report on Ministry of Defence redundancies. My colleague Richard Norton-Taylor has filed a story about its conclusions, and the report itself is available here.

This is what Hammond had to say about it.

The select committee’s report is simply wrong in what it says on military redundancies. Every opportunity is being given for military personnel to retrain either for alternative roles in the Armed Forces or in civilian life, but the simple fact is we have to tackle the massive deficit we inherited from Labour and the huge black hole in the defence budget.

We have already announced the reduction in military and civilian manpower that we will have to make to get our Armed Forces on a stable basis for the future.

9.06am: David Cameron has not even delivered his speech on the European court of human rights, but Labour have already criticised him for his stance. This is from Sadiq Khan (left), the shadow justice secretary.

David Cameron – instead of engaging in a positive debate about ensuring the workings of the European court on human rights are fit for purpose in these modern times – resorts to the peddling of myths that denigrate the human rights successes of the court and the convention. It smacks of throwing ‘red meat’ to the hungry pack of Conservative backbenches so recently emboldened by the Prime Minister’s waltzing away from the European negotiating table.

8.45am: Growth, or the lack of it, is likely to be the story of the morning. Within the hour we will get the growth figures for the last three months of 2011 – the fourth quarter, or Q4 – and in the City economists are predicting a figure of about -0.1%. If so, that will be official confirmation that the economy is shrinking. We won’t technically be in recession. You need two quarters of negative growth to meet the standard definition of a recession and Q1 2012 still isn’t over yet. But negative growth would still be grim news.

Here’s the diary for the day.

Growth figures are released for the last three months of 2011.

9.50am: Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, speaks at the Oxford Media Convention conference.

10am: Mazher Mahmood, the former News of the World investigations editor, gives evidence to the Leveson inquiry for a second time. Bob Crow, the RMT general secretary, and David Allen Green, writer of the Jack of Kent blog, are also appearing.

11am: The CBI publishes its quarterly industrial trends survey.

12pm: David Cameron and Ed Miliband clash at PMQs.

Alex Salmond holds a press conference in Edinburgh Castle to mark the publication of the Scottish government’s consultation paper on the independence referendum.

3.30pm: David Cameron delivers a speech in Strasbourg on the European court of human rights. As Nicholas Watt reports, Cameron is going to warn that the European court of human rights is in danger of turning into a “small claims court” that fails to deal with serious violations of human rights, unless it embarks on reforms.

Around 3.30pm: Peers renew their debate on the welfare bill. As Randeep Ramesh reports, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the Conservative former lord chancellor, is leading a revolt over plans to charge single parents for access to the Child Support Agency.

As usual, I’ll be covering all the breaking political news, as well as looking at the papers and bringing you the best politics from the web. I’ll post a lunchtime summary at around 1pm.

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