Economy dominates as election nears

By Alex Stevenson

Worries about the public finances, a massive strike from civil servants and party political sniping mean the economy is continuing to overshadow British politics as the general election draws nearer.

There are less than two months to go until May 6th, the likely date on which Gordon Brown will choose to go to the country.

Election 2010: Two months to go?

But despite the fact Britain is now out of recession – it enjoyed GDP growth of 0.3% in the final quarter of 2009 – the economy remains the overarching issue dominating the agenda as another week in Westminster begins.

Chancellor Alistair Darling has come under pressure today from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which has called on him to use the pre-election Budget to set out a detailed and credible plan to balance the budget by 2015/16 – two years earlier than planned.

End deficit earlier, Darling told

The CBI’s calls on the government to back businesses as the public sector is going to be “squeezed” was underlined by the 48-hour walkout begun today by members of the Public and Commercial Services Union.

Its strike action means up to 270,000 civil servants covering sectors including the courts, immigration and security on the parliamentary estate are not working. The dispute is over what the PCS claims are cuts of up to a third on existing redundancy entitlements.

Civil servants walk out

The government finds itself being defended from an unlikely quarter, however, as Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has attacked the Conservatives for using the economy as a “crude form of blackmail”.

He is suggesting in a speech to party workers today that David Cameron and George Osborne are deliberately “stoking up fear on the markets” in order to bully people into voting Tory.

Clegg hits out at Tory ‘blackmail’

“It’s a strategy that is completely negative and without hope, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that people aren’t going to fall for it,” he said.