UK loses its triple-A rating – George should’ve listened to Danny

The BBC reports tonight’s predictable news:

UK’s AAA credit rating cut to Aa1 by Moody’s
The UK has had its AAA credit rating cut by Moody’s, based on its expectation that growth will “remain sluggish over the next few years”. The ratings agency became the first to lower the UK from its highest rating, to Aa1. … The UK’s net sovereign debt was the equivalent of 68% of the country’s annual economic output, or GDP, at the end of last year. All three major credit agencies last year put the UK on “negative outlook”, meaning they could downgrade its rating if performance deteriorates. In his Autumn Statement in December, Mr Osborne acknowledged public finances were taking longer to rectify than planned, and admitted he would be forced to extend austerity measures by at least another year. Germany and Canada are the only major economies to currently have a top AAA rating. A downgrade of a credit rating does not necessarily substantially damage the ability to borrow.

As I pointed out here six months ago, George Osborne’s decision to hoist Britain’s economic credibility to the mast of the credit agency ratings was always a curious one — it wasn’t a mistake made by the Lib Dems’ Danny Alexander when he noted: “The credit rating is not the be-all and end-all.”

George would’ve been better off dropping the bombast and adopting Danny’s more savvy approach. Tonight’s news is unlikely to alter the fundamentals of the British economy — the markets had already priced-in this move, and the US downgrade had no real impact — but it is another blow to the Chancellor’s personal credibility.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in News.


  • Peter Watson 22nd Feb '13 - 11:08pm

    Perhaps Danny knew what would be the outcome of following the wrong economic policies.
    But who is worse – Osborne for mistakenly doing what he thought was the right thing or Lib Dems for deliberately doing what they thought was the wrong thing?

  • Stephen Donnelly 22nd Feb '13 - 11:31pm

    @Geoffrey: The downgrade is the symptom of the economic situation, it has been expected for some time. It leads to no new conclusions. I am inclined to ignore those Economists who think they have magic short term solutions to our problems.

  • @Geoffrey Payne – Moody’s reasoning is not that UK economic policy is not working, they say;
    “The main driver underpinning Moody’s decision to downgrade the UK’s government bond rating to AA1 is the increasing clarity that, despite considerable structural economic strengths, the UK’s economic growth will remain sluggish over the next few years due to the anticipated slow growth of the global economy and the drag on the UK economy,”

    And say that they “Moody’s could also downgrade the UK’s government debt rating further in the event of an additional material deterioration in the country’s economic prospects or reduced political commitment to fiscal consolidation,”

    So you can say have the view that Osborne should be listening to Stiglitz and Krugman, or you can be concerned about Moody’s ratings but then two are pushing in opposition directions.

  • Richard Dean 22nd Feb '13 - 11:52pm

    Does anyone know what this might cost us, if anything?

  • John Broggio 22nd Feb '13 - 11:53pm

    The AAA rating may not be everything but it is no surprise as two Nobel economists have (correctly) predicted that by following the policies espoused by both the Chancellor and his coalition colleagues (after election, naturally) would lead to both slow growth (at best) and a down-rating of our currency.

    For the umpteenth time, an economy is NOT a household & cutting a deficit in a time of weak growth will inevitably lead to more economic woes. A basic fact of economics that is lost on the entire Treasury team unfortunately…

  • John Broggio 22nd Feb '13 - 11:53pm

    @Richard – hopefully a Chancellor & a change from an appalling economic strategy!

  • Canadian Eh? 23rd Feb '13 - 12:33am

    Well, if you want to participate in a stable economy you will have to learn either German or Canadian. Canadian is easier in that it approximates your dialect a little better. So, repeat after me “I was down at Horton’s getting a double double and a cruller when I heard that Burke has left the Leafs and gone to the Ducks. I figured the hoser had done enough damage here so he might as well go back to where he had managed to get his name on the Stanley Cup eh?”

    Understand that and you can understand Canadian 🙂

    We’re like polite, well educated but unarmed Americans with healthcare.


  • @Stephen Tall: “Tonight’s news is unlikely to alter the fundamentals of the British economy”

    Shades of John McCain. But…
    “[Danny] Alexander yesterday said if Scotland had a lower credit rating, it would have to borrow from the international finance markets at higher interest rates.
    “The Chief Secretary to the Treasury said the higher charges would be passed on to bank and building society customers, who could face having to pay an extra £1billion a year.”

    So, if this was true of Scotland, why isn’t true of the UK as a whole? Or is Alexander right, will the effect of this losing the AAA rating see bank and building society customers hit extremely hard? And if Scotland was looking at an extra billion, how many billions is a country the size of the UK going to end paying?

  • Credit rating is not much in and of itself. I mean, these are the guys who rated Lehman’s AAA days before it went bust.

  • The tr AAA rating is the thing Osborne waves in everyone’s face every time it was suggested he might be wrong as in “our borrowing costs are low because our policies have maintained the AAA rating” or words to that effect. Realistically, he’s looking very shaky with this , the pound plummeting but with no huge sign of exports , and an immanent triple dip.

  • Glenn, and now he’ll wave the downgrade in our faces and say we’re not doing enough cutting. The man is a menace!

  • This is not Osborne’s mess, it is the Coalition’s mess.

  • The AAA rating is a bit relevant as some investors are only allowed to purchase AAA bonds. Usually ultra risk averse ones like some pension funds.

    Bad timing for it to be month before the Budget though

  • The AAA rating was never that relevant but who was it who banged on about it during the elction campaign and afterwards?

    This is all the fault of Osborne and his clique (which includes Alexander – no use trying to pretend it doesn’t now things are not going so well).

    I have nothing but contempt for the ratings agencies and I do not know how much practical difference it will make to our situation. The loss of the rating is a symptom of the underlying structural problems with the economy. We should be more focused on that rather than an arbitrary rating from a discredited organisation.

    Osborne and the Coalition have only themselves to blame and to now pretend themselves that the rating was important shows why we should hold the whole sorry lot in contempt. Get rid of Osborne and put Cable in there. At least he may have some idea what he is doing!

  • last paragraph ‘not important’

  • Gilts and the pound fell sharply ahead of this announcement. Who was told in advance? Shouldn’t the FSA be investigating possible market abuse/insider dealing by those connected with Moody’s?

  • jedi

    I find whatever Moody’s say to be irrelevant and have been saying this for ages. These ratings agencies are not the be all and end all.

    The person who has made a big thing about it – remember when France was down-graded- was our unbeloved Chancellor, incompetently supported by his sidekick Alexander

    Since a downgrade was judged likely they started down playing it.

    At the end it is the real economy that matters, and that is not looking good!

  • @Jedibeeftrix is correct that the junior party will never control the treasury. However, There are better qualified on the Tory benches including Ken Clarke….

  • Peter Watson 23rd Feb '13 - 11:24am

    @peter.tyzack “there is only one person better suited to be Chancellor”
    Actually I think the list of people better suited to be chancellor than Osborne is a very long one 😉

  • I seem to recall Cameron saying just a couple of months ago, we are heading in the right direction and the good news will keep oncoming.

    What an absolute joke that is.

    The unemployment figures are a “sham” because Hundreds of Thousands of claimants are hidden from the “true” unemployment figures due to the workfare programme. Once someone is placed in the workfare programme or training they are not counted as part of the unemployment figures despite the fact that they are still in receipt of JSA. This programme is defended viciously by the coalition government, despite it being a huge failure and has only a success rate of 3% and yet is costing £5 Billion to the welfare budget. The coalition defends the policy, because the policy allows the government to fiddle the unemployment figures and claim that unemployment is falling.

    Cameron had to be told the NSO the difference between deficit and debt, because he claimed in a party political broadcast that this government was paying down the debt.

    We are heading for a triple dip recession, and now we lose our AAA credit rating.

    Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and Alexander or as I like to call them COCA. How very fitting a plant that causes so much destruction for so many people.

  • Paul in Twickenham 23rd Feb '13 - 11:46am

    Paul K – I can think of many examples of insider trading but the UK downgrade was heavily trailed and widely discussed in the media. The markets had priced this event in, hence the precipitous drop in the pound over the last few weeks. Perhaps the curious behaviour of the Heinz stock volume traded 24 hours before the announcement of the takeover by Berkshire Hathaway might be a more productive investigation…

    So I think the markets have priced it in already, but the political consequences are appalling for George Osborne. He chose to nail his reputation as chancellor onto the maintenance of AAA status. A forlorn hope. The political problem here is obvious – Osborne has failed in his own (repeatedly stated) #1 objective. However Labour have no cause for glee here – on the basis of their proposals we’d have lost AAA 2 years ago.

    As I (and others) have often said on this site – this is not the familiar (20th century) ebb and flow of economic growth. We are in a secular depression – the “new reality” is permanent recession and retrenchment. What is needed are new ideas to deal with this new economic reality.

  • Jedi

    You have your view on the ratings agencies and I have mine

  • @Mark Inskip
    “Moody’s reasoning is not that UK economic policy is not working […] So you can say have the view that Osborne should be listening to Stiglitz and Krugman, or you can be concerned about Moody’s ratings but then two are pushing in opposition directions.”

    Not really, no. Whatever reasoning Moodys has given (and they subscribe to the same ideology as Osborne, hold the same belief in austerity – and have delayed this downgrading as long as possible for that reason), the downgrading shows that austerity has failed on its own terms, that Osborne’s policy has failed by the standards he set himself. America and France were downgraded because they weren’t pursuing austerity, now Britain has been downgraded despite pursuing austerity. We were told “this pain is necessary to avoid being in the same precarious position as America and France”, and yet now we are in that position. This is a strong indicator that UK economic policy is wrong, that the ideology that Osborne and the ratings agencies adhere to is wrong, and that Stiglitz and Krugman are right.

  • It is a big mistake to ascribe our economic performance in the last three years in a simplistic way to government fiscal policy as lots of people seem to be doing here.

    They are ignoring the vast array of other factors, all hostile, which mean the economy is struggling to grow and generate the tax revenues needed to close the deficit gap:

    1) Collapsing UK oil and gas output;
    2) Collapsing exports to the Eurozone;
    3) Sustained high oil, food and commodity prices on international markets;
    4) The effects of the Eurozone crisis on UK business investment;
    5) A huge consumer debt problem that will take years to fix.

    Any one of these factors on its own would have been enough to knock a great chunk out of the UK economy. Taken together they are lethal mix that is far, far more powerful than any fiscal antidote that could be applied. A few billions here or there are nothing in comparison with the tens of billions that each of these factors alone is taking out of the UK economy at present.

    Really, people need to accept that the economy is, in the short run, not going to be solved by just spending a bit more government cash. There are much more important underlying influences at work. If you can’t see this, then you really have got your partisan blinkers on.

  • RC

    There is the economic truth and reality, and the politics!

    Wasn’t it just as big a mistake to blame all the problems of 2008 on Labour spending when we had a collapse int he world economy based on US sub-prime loans? Who was it that claimed we were on the verge of bankruptcy and we were about to do a ‘Greece’?

    Couldn’t have been the Quartet could it?

    At the end these arguments don’t help but it is a bit rich to see a supporter of the Coalition whinging about it!

  • @RC
    It is a big mistake to blame all economic woes on the government, but largely due to the way they did likewise to Labour it is what will happen. I have being saying for years on this site that the coalition should have accepted the part events played on the economic crisis when Labour were in power. Labour made some atrocious decisions but were not entirely to blame , the same is going to be true of the coalition …

  • @bcrombie

    There is a difference between the Coalition taking over a totally bombed out economy laden with debt and then facing with a massively hostile set of circumstances not of your doing compared with Labour being in control of a country for 13 years, most of them highly favourable in terms of commodity prices and world demand growth. Do you not see the difference between the two situations?

    As for this old refrain of the world financial crisis being “something bad that just happened while Labour were in power” is doesn’t really wash, does it? After all, Labour went out of its way to encourage the overgrowth of financial services and neglected the rest of the economy. There was a world financial crisis and the UK was at the epicentre of that crisis and we were among the most vulnerable to its effects because of the structure of our economy.

    If Labour hadn’t been running a deficit at the height of the boom, we wouldn’t have had built up such a massive deficit at the depths of the recession and the job of reducing it would have been much less urgent. Imagine if we had been running a 1% surplus, then we would only have reached a deficit of 7-8%, and at the current rate of reduction, we would be down to 3-4% of GDP. We could even have afforded to take things in a more leisurely manner and reduced it more slowly.

    The last three years have been a uniquely challenging period economically for the UK in terms of a looming financial crisis on our doorstep, high commodity prices, falling oil and gas output, and the massive household debt mountain. During Labour’s time in office, most of those factors weren’t there or were much less pressing. So I’m afraid the argument does not cut both ways in the manner you are implying.

  • RC

    The major mistakes made by Labour where around not tightening regulation on the financial bandits and using such tricks as PFI instead of properly investing. I do not think they should apologise for reversing the underspend in public infrastructure after years of neglect under the Thatcher/Major years

    I do not remember the Tories demanding extra regulation and cutting the amount of money moved from the public sector into the pockets of the private sector vultures?

    The LD did make noises on these subjects as well but completely changed their tune since being in Government – Alexander is completely aligned with Osborne on everything.

    After the number of u-turns on principle I do not trust anything that comes out of the LD leadership’s mouths

  • @bcrombie

    First of all, whatever the Tories said or did not say before 2010 isn’t really relevant here. After all, this is Lib Dem Voice, not Conservative Home. We did warn Labour about overdependence on the financial sector and debt and we are doing our best in government (with just one in twelve MPs) to sort that out now we are in office by regulating the banks and creating an industrial policy under Vince Cable. Not enough is being done fast enough, I will admit, but we don’t have the parliamentary power to force matters any faster.

    As for “U-turns on principle”, I think you confusing that with “not having enough MPs to enact your own policies versus another party which has six times more MPs”. All of the policy changes you may be hinting at can be attributed to the one simple fact that you can’t implement your manifesto in full if you don’t have a majority. Having to compromise with another party does not mean that you wouldn’t be doing things very differently if you were in government on your own. If there is one failure of the Lib Dems in the past three years it is in their inability to communicate the difference between majority and coalition government. Unfortunately, it is such a long time since we have had a coalition government that the level of understanding of how they work in this country is still firmly at square one.

  • RC

    What the Tories did or say is relevant here as they are dictating things and your leadership is speaking from the same script. Alexander is completely aligned on the ‘bankrupt’ and ‘just like Greece’ nonsense. Your party may not believe it but your leadership has shown so divergence from the Tories so I suggest that they agree with them.

    As to your second paragraph, that has been discussed ad nauseam. From my side I didn’t vote for these policies and I do not think there is a law saying that when you go into coalition you have to jettison your principles – that was a conscious decision made by your party. When you vote against (eg boundary changes) the Tories cannot enact their poison! One thing that is clear is that Clegg decided to change your economic policy before the election to side with Osborne – pity is that he forgot to tell us ^voters

    Are you saying that the only problem is an inability to communicate? Are you suggesting I am not capable to make my own judgements without being told what to think by the Government?

  • @RC

    You do realise that up until 2007 Labour where running lower budget deficits than what the previous Tory Governments where achieving. Labour were achieving this at the same time as investing in massive infrastructure projects, Schools, Hospitals etc.
    The Tories ran higher deficits and did not invest in anything, No schools, No Hospitals. Our education and health system was in a mess.
    The Tories ran up debts whilst giving away “billions” to their friends in the private sector.

    Up until the crash in 2007. The Tories were calling for “less regulation” and were pledging to match Labours spending. The Liberal democrats were pledging to spend more.

    The minute the Tories get back into government they resort to their old ways. Cutting regulation, shrinking the state, privatising everything, Removing employee’s right’s. Everything and anything to line the pockets of the big companies who in return line the coffers of the Tories party donations. The only thing different this time round is that the Liberal Democrats are supporting them in doing it.

  • This whole discussion prompts an idle question of whether it’s even possible for a party to have such consistency of values and principles that it would support or oppose the same policies whether it were in or out of government. That is, not only that they would hold fast to the principles they espoused in opposition when in power, but also that, when in opposition, they would avoid taking opportunistic positions that they know they would never actually try to put into practice when in power. Is there, or has there ever been, a party that would practice such self-denial in opposition, that would see its rôle as one of honest criticism and accounting, not simply of bashing the government, that would choose its policies on what it saw as being best for the country, not most politically advantageous for the party?

  • We shouldn’t forget that Moody’s were one of the agencies that rated investments based on US sub-prime mortgages as AAA and hence played a significant role in getting the worlds banking system into the current mess …

  • Roland

    Which is why some of us have so little faith in them.

    But I never had faith in them…..

    Alexander and Osborne though spent the first year after the election saying that the rating was the most important measure of market confidence but when it is lost they (and you) come out to say they are rubbish anyway.

    Who is inconsistent?

  • @ Matt

    “You do realise that up until 2007″…….Labour still had three more years left in power.

    It is what happened afterwards that counts, and what happened afterwards is that they borrowed massively and created a huge deficit. That is what is important. That is the root of the current problems with the public finances. What happened up to 2007 is more than five years ago.

    As I have already said, what the Tories may or may not have said is irrelevant here, since the Liberal Democrats are a different party. Get this straight: this is not a Tory party site, so going on about how dreadful the Tories are is totally and utterly off the point. The only reason we have to work with them is because of our dreadful first past the post system which gives them too many MPs and effectively steals two thirds of our votes and gives them to the other parties.

    “The minute the Tories get back into government they resort to their old ways. Cutting regulation, shrinking the state, privatising everything, Removing employee’s right’s.”

    Matt, the things you say are not happening. You are just making them up.

    1) Banking is facing TOUGHER regulation than it did under Labour;
    2) The target for state spending is 40%, which is larger than it was under Gordon Brown in 2006/07. That is not “shrinking the state” it is getting the state back to where it was under Labour.
    3) Privatising everything? What has actually been privatised so far under the Coalition that wasn’t already in private hands under Labour?
    4) Removing employees’ rights? There have been insignificant changes. Employees’ rights remain fundamentally intact. That would not have been the case had there been a majority Tory government. They would have implemented the Beecroft report in full. Vince Cable stopped that.

    Really Matt, I don’t know why you even bother. Every single post of yours is straight out of the Ed Balls Labour Party handbook. You deliberately twist every single thread against the Liberal Democrats in a completely predictable fashion. You are not going to convince anyone.

  • RC

    But you have the same economic policies as the Tories, apparently this was decided before the election but Clegg forgot to say. Alexander has also agreed to the spending cuts as proposed by Osborne until past the next election. At the moment economically you are as one.

    I am no Labour apologist but spending is decreasing

    The banking regulation is increasing, a bit, after the fact. Before 2008 there was no appetite at all for increasing regulation. The Tories were calling for less regulation. Labour messed this up but the problems were seeded back in the 80s under Thatcher

    We are seeing privatisation of schools, or rather private provision under the hand of the DoE wit LEA out of the loop. Free schools are the start and there are rumours of further plans

    There will be further erosion of workers rights – this is what the Tories do.

    No mention of NHS privatisation, a massive drop in government support to universities, housing benefit reform, tax cuts for the richest etc, etc.

    Of course these are mainly Tory policies but your party is complicit. Your posts indicate you support all these policies so when I turned from man to pig and pig to man it was difficult to tell the difference!

    The Tories started most of the policies, they were carried on by Blair and then taken to the extreme conclusion by this, the most ideologically driven right wing Government I have seen. The fact the LD are part of it is to your enduring shame

  • @RC

    Are you denying that Liberal Democrats pledged to spend more than Labour, prior to 2007? if you are then you need to bush up on your history, a suggestion would be to go read your previous manifesto’s

    After the property bubble burst and the banking crisis hit that’s when the deficit soared, due to reduced tax receipts, Billions spent on Bailing out the banks, businesses could not get credit. It was the same scenario the whole world over, and tying to say that Labour was “fully responsible” is just plain nonsense and the public are coming to realise that.

    You can carry on calling me a Labour apologist or whatever, but that’s just plain rubbish as well, but if using that as an excuse makes you feel better about yourself 😉

    Liberal Democrats always said, judge us on the economy, blindly believing that there would be a big turn around before 2015 and you would reap the rewards. Do you seriously believe that to still be the case?

    Thatcher once said, the lady’s not for turning. well our economy is not for turning whilst it is in the incompetent hands of this coalition government.

  • Tony Dawson 23rd Feb '13 - 5:59pm

    @bcrombie :

    “The Tories started most of the policies, they were carried on by Blair and then taken to the extreme conclusion by this, the most ideologically driven right wing Government I have seen. ”

    I presume you have had your eyes tight shut, for the preceding 30 years, then.

    This government is not as Right Wing/ideological as those of Brown and Blair (both of which conspired to increase the rich-poor divide every year for 13 years), Major and Thatcher. It is possibly a little more Right Wing than Jim Callaghan.

  • @bcrombie

    I don’t think I’m being inconsistent, I just find it interesting that the ratings agencies are still held in such high regard even though they got it so wrong, so relatively recently.

    I do wonder whether the issue isn’t some much the policy and events as to whether George Osborne and David Cameron have been convincing in presenting their strategy to the ratings agencies. Remember this was something that Alastair Darling made much of in his book about the last 1000 days in government.

  • Roland

    I return to the question:

    Who was it who made such a big deal of the AAA rating in the first years of this Government, and who gloated when France and The US lost theirs? Clue: one was a towel folder and the other was a PR man

    They were used by the Government in good times but now are being, rightly, treated with the contempt they deserve.

    I ask who is being inconsistent?

  • @bcrombie

    Sorry being thick – suffering from a heavy cold etc. but now I understand what you’re getting at.

  • Old Codger Chris 23rd Feb '13 - 9:16pm

    I was intrigued by Dr David Hill’s post of 11.38am, having never heard of ORE-STEM. Perhaps I’m just ignorant. But a quick trawl of the web suggests that, as an investment, it might be a little risky.

  • Roland

    Not thick at all. I am not always clear in what I mean. Can ramble a bit lol

    Get better soon

  • Paul McKeown 24th Feb '13 - 7:24pm


    “They were doing it because they didn’t have the courage to ask the electorate for the taxation necessary to pay for their spending ambitions, and they justified this utterly spineless behaviour on the spurious notion that Gordon’s wizardry had a brough an end to the economic cycles of boom and bust.

    A wonderful combination of hubris and cowardice.”

    I agree with that. It’s what I felt from about 2000 on, with the sense that it would ultimately end in tears.

    However, the alternative – a Conservative government – felt even worse, for reasons of basic civilisation and culture.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Nonconformistradical
    @Thelma Davies I don't have a problem with your views on parental responsibility. But what do you think should be done about children whose parents are irr...
  • Alex Macfie
    @Tristan Ward: Each country has its own political party system, which has evolved because of multiple factors of which the electoral system is only one. In some...
  • Thelma Davies
    @Nonconform. I'm stating that it's my responsibility & my husband's that my children were toilet trained & had basic reading and writing skills prior to...
  • Mary ReidMary Reid
    @Simon Atkinson - I am so pleased you like our musings on Max's impact within and beyond the party. And please accept my sympathies to the whole family for the ...
  • Chris Moore
    @ExLD Leeds: that's a ludicrous reason not to vote LD. Theakes is in a vanishingly tiny minority regarding the desirability of PR, as you must well know. LDs...