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British economic recovery increases David Cameron's political capital

LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron may be close to pulling off one of the most significant feats of his premiership: delivering a solid economic recovery ahead of a 2015 election.

Two consecutive quarters of growth have shifted the sands of British politics: six months ago, legislators in his ruling Conservative party warned him that failure to lead Britain out of stagnation could cost him, and them, the election. Those fearful voices have fallen silent.

After cutting Britain's biggest budget deficit since Second World War by a third, Cameron leads what could be the fastest growing major economy in the European Union this year.

Britain's $2.5 trillion economy grew by 0.6 per cent in the second quarter after a 0.3pc rise in the first quarter, putting it on course to grow by at least 1.4pc this year.

That would be the strongest annual growth since 2010, the year Cameron forced Labour's Gordon Brown from office by forming a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats after no party won an outright majority in a general election.

Some investors say Cameron's policies may in fact be partly to blame for the recovery's long wait. But they still expect the government to benefit.

"The recovery could have happened a lot sooner with a bit more government support for infrastructure spending in particular," said Trevor Greetham, asset allocation director for Fidelity's Investment Solution Group.

"But that is not the way things tend to work in the minds of the electorate - you cannot say 'well actually this would have happened earlier and we would all be a lot wealthier with a policy that didn't happen'. In reality it is the strength of the economy at the time of an election that tends to matter most."

For Cameron and his finance minister, George Osborne, the political gamble was always on economic growth. But even as signs emerge that their bet may be paying off, they remain cautious.

Party sources say they are acutely aware of the risk of premature triumphalism 21 months before the election.

When asked on almost a daily basis whether Britain is seeing "the green shoots of recovery", Cameron's spokesman says only that the economy "is healing" or "out of intensive care". He always stresses that tough times still lie ahead.

Staking their reputation on reducing Britain's debt mountain and nursing the economy back to health, Cameron and Osborne knew they had just a few years to make inroads into what they said was the profligate legacy of the 1997-2010 Labour governments.

But as the economy stagnated, Britain's two most powerful men were branded "dipsticks" by Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper and their privileged backgrounds - both went to expensive schools and were members of the same exclusive high-society dining club at Oxford - were mocked.

One outspoken Conservative MP even called them "arrogant posh boys" who "don't know the price of milk".

Cameron's party lost ground in opinion polls and was convulsed by internal rebellions over Britain's ties with the European Union and over gay marriage, while the opposition Labour party warned voters austerity was killing off the recovery.

But from services and consumer spending to house prices, Britons' best loved measure of economic virility, data now shows the world's sixth largest economy may be about to do better than at any time since the onset of the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

If Cameron can keep the recovery on track right up to the next election, his chances of winning - possibly even the Conservatives' first outright victory since 1992 - increase. If he wins, Cameron has promised an in-out referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union by the end of 2017.



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