Chancellors have always seen the all-important GDP numbers a day before they are formally published, which makes any event involving the chancellor on that day a fascinating game of bluff and second-guessing.
So what could we tell from Monday’s press conference with George Osborne, which was ostensibly about the UK-India trade relationship?
Osborne walked slowly and confidently into the room, his head held high and smiling. But read nothing into that: others have commented before on how he always manages to grin, whatever storm he is facing.
Instead, let’s look closely at his words, which might just give us a hint of what the government’s line might be tomorrow after we have all had the chance to digest the growth figures. He said (emphasis mine):
We have an economic plan we are sticking to amid great instability.
Later, he added:
[Our decisions have] provided the stability the British economy needs in a very, very unstable global environment.
A Number 10 spokesman made this even more explicit earlier:
We have always been clear that it is going to be a tough year. If you look around the world the backdrop is pretty challenging. There are uncertainties about what is happening in the Eurozone and the rest of the world: rising energy prices, rising commodity prices. There are difficult times ahead.
What’s more, when Osborne was listing his economic achievements, he mentioned bolstering Britain’s credit rating, lowering borrowing costs, stabilising inflation and creating more private sector jobs. No mention there of growth, even though last quarter saw the economy expand by 0.5 per cent.
Perhaps it is reading too much to say that the government is trying to hint that tomorrow’s numbers are bad: officials may just be “managing expectations”, to use a dreadful PR cliché.
But one thing seems sure: if the numbers are disappointing, ministers will be lining up to blame that “global instability” we’ve been hearing so much about.