Cameron Promotes Apprenticeships Amid Austerity Doubts

British Prime Minister David Cameron will point to his youth-employment plans today to prove he’s picked the right course as opinion polls and some fellow Tories question his economic leadership.

“Apprenticeships are at the heart of our mission to rebuild the economy, giving young people the chance to learn a trade, to build their careers, and create a truly world-class, high-skilled workforce that can compete and thrive in the fierce global race,” Cameron will say in Buckinghamshire today, according to remarks released in advance by his office.

The premier is seeking to defend his economic strategy as the country is on the brink of falling into a triple-dip recession and last month lost its Aaa credit rating from Moody’s Investors Service.

Chancellor George Osborne is preparing to present his budget to Parliament on March 20. Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable is one of a number of voices calling for the government to look at whether the balance of austerity versus growth-stimulating measures is right.

“To be in a position where 10 days before the budget the whole strategy is now being openly debated in the Cabinet -- you’ve got Boris Johnson, the Mayor, the International Monetary Fund, Vince Cable, even Theresa May today casting doubt on the chancellor’s growth plans for the future, clearly there’s a problem,” Ed Balls, the opposition Labour Party’s treasury spokesman, told Sky News yesterday.

“The markets, like the country, are crying out for a plan for growth to get the economy moving because they know without that it can’t work,” Balls said.

Barclays Plc said yesterday that it would recruit a further 1,000 apprentices and announced a new plan to support 10,000 young people into work.

Triple Dip

Britain’s economy shrank 0.3 percent in the final quarter of 2012, leaving it on the brink of a triple-dip recession. Labour says the lack of growth is the result of Osborne’s spending cuts to narrow the budget deficit. Moody’s cut the U.K.’s top credit rating last month, citing the weak growth outlook and challenges to fiscal consolidation.

A survey by polling company Opinium Research LLP for the Observer newspaper yesterday found 58 percent of voters believe the U.K.’s austerity program is harming the economy against 20 percent who think it is the correct course. Opinium questioned 1,950 voters between March 5-7 and weighted the replies to represent national opinion.

Cameron said March 7 there is “no alternative” to pursuing austerity measures to cut the U.K.’s deficit. Yesterday, the plan was backed by Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat, who said the government’s austerity measures and investment in growth were pitched at the right level.

‘Mythical’ Plan

“To be unflinching is not to be unthinking,” Clegg told his party’s spring rally in Brighton, southern England. “The idea that the choice is between a cruel and unbending Plan A and a mythical plan B is simply not the case.”

“Balancing the books is a judgment, not a science,” he said. “And our plan has always allowed room for maneuver.”

Two days ago, Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May appeared to make a subtle bid for the party leadership if Cameron fails to win a majority at the 2015 election. She set out an economic plan to a conference of grassroots Conservative supporters in London and said the Tories must “govern for the whole country.”

She also appealed to party traditionalists by suggesting the U.K. withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, an idea rejected by Clegg yesterday.

Exploiting Tensions

May’s intervention underlines the questions Cameron is now facing about his leadership following the party’s third-place ranking in a special election in Eastleigh, southern England earlier this month, which the Liberal Democrats won.

Clegg sought to exploit the tensions among Tories.

“The Conservative party knows it needs to stay on the center ground to have any chance of speaking to ordinary people’s concerns,” Clegg said yesterday. “At least the leadership seem to. But they just can’t manage it, no matter how hard they try. They’re like a kind of broken shopping trolley. Every time you try and push them straight ahead they veer off to the right-hand side.”

-- Editors: Jeffrey Donovan, Dick Schumacher

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