Listen to Andrew Sentance if you want a good laugh

The former MPC member has made an art of wrongly calling every economic issue for the past five year

Andrew Sentance is at it again with a ridiculous column in the FT, arguing that this is not the right time to do more QE.

It is the right time to do more QE -- as the MPC minutes, out last Wednesday, made clear. As usual, "Death" Sentance has no idea what he is talking about and, if we listened to what he said, it would push the economy further into the doldrums. Fortunately, both the coalition government and the Labour Party have a different view, as they should. Sentance has wrongly called practically every economic issue over the past five years; what he says has been almost perfectly negatively correlated with what has happened. Recall: he was the guy who failed to spot the recession in the first place. On 21 September 2008, a week after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, he argued in a speech to the Leicester Chamber of Commerce:

The current prospect for the UK economy is very different to the major recessions we have previously seen in the mid-1970s, early-1980s and early-1990s. In these episodes, economic activity fell sharply for one to two years. In my view, the current outlook is for a much milder period of weak economic activity, on this occasion.

It didn't work out that way.

There are lots of other similar examples: just take a look here at his various speeches -- as he became increasingly isolated on the MPC -- if you want a good laugh.

So what did he have to say for himself, this time? Global forecasts are "not excessively downbeat", was his big claim. Well, they are. In the UK today, for example, Barclays Capital lowered its forecast of UK growth for 2011 to an average of 0.2 per cent per quarter, so now it is 0.9 per cent this year and 1.5 per cent in 2012. It called for more QE -- as has the British Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Directors. The IMF, in its September 2011 World Economic Outlook, published last week, lowered its growth forecast compared with its June 2011 WEO projections, as follows:

  2011 2012
World Output - 0.3 - 0.5
Advanced economies - 0.6 - 0.7
USA - 1.0 - 0.9
Euro area - 0.4 - 0.6
Germany - 0.5 - 0.7
France - 0.4 - 0.5
Italy - 0.4 - 1.0
UK - 0.4 - 0.7
Canada - 0.8 - 0.7
China - 0.1 - 0.5
India - 0.4 - 0.3
Emerging and developing economies - 0.2 - 0.3
Central and eastern Europe - 1.0 - 0.5


I guess Death didn't notice the projections. He went on with the same old nonsense about inflation being the big ogre, which is clearly out of place and out of time. Growth is the problem but I guess he hasn't noticed that unemployment is rising:

In the UK, we missed the opportunity in the second half of last year to start to rein in monetary stimulus. And the US embarked on its QE2 programme. These policies have not boosted growth. Rather, they have led to relatively high inflation. More stimulus is likely to result in more of the same, while doing little if anything to support growth.

Inflation is slowing around the world, oil and commodity prices have collapsed over recent days and there is no wage pressure at all. More stimulus will result in more growth.

All of this on a day when the newest member of the MPC, Ben Broadbent, who replaced Sentance on the committee, made his first speech on the economy and in interviews afterwards made it clear that he was close to voting for a further round of QE. Broadbent also made it clear that he would do so if the data worsened, which it appears to be doing. Thank goodness George Osborne did not reappoint Sentance and replaced him with someone sensible -- good one George!

Vince, Mervyn, George, Danny and now Ben all seem to be on the same page. Now is the time to do more QE. Sentance, as ever, will be -- and should be -- ignored. There is a considerable chance that the MPC will move at its October meeting but almost certainly will in November, when it produces its next inflation report and new forecasts.

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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The TV stars MPs would love to be

Labour MPs dream of being Jed Bartlet.

In my latest book, A State of Play, I looked at the changing ways in which Britain’s representative democracy has been fictionalized since the later Victorian period. With the support of the University of Nottingham, we decided to turn the tables and ask MPs about their favourite fictional political characters. The results are intriguing.

All MPs were contacted, but with only 49 responding – that’s a 7.5 per cent return rate – I can’t claim the results are fully representative. At 22 per cent, women figured slightly less than they actually do in the Commons. But the big difference is in party terms: 71 per cent of respondents were Labour MPs – double their share in the Commons – while just 20 per cent were Conservatives, less than half their proportion in the Lower House. Maybe Conservative MPs are busier and have better things to do than answer surveys? Or perhaps they just don’t take political fiction – and possibly culture more generally - as seriously as those on the Opposition benches.

What is not subject to speculation, however, is that Labour MPs have very different tastes to their Conservatives rivals, suggesting they are more optimistic about what politics might achieve. At 22 per cent, the most favourite character chosen by MPs overall was Jed Bartlet, heroic US President in Aaron Sorkin’s romantic TV series The West Wing. Of those MPs who nominated Bartlett, every one was Labour. Of course Barlet is a Democrat and the series - dismissed by critics as The Left Wing – looked favourably on progressive causes. But it seems Labour MPs regard Bartlet as an archetype for more than his politics. As one put it, he is, "the ideal leader: smart, principled and pragmatic" For some, Bartlet stands in stark contrast with their current leader. One respondent wistfully characterised the fictional President as having, "Integrity, learning, wit, electability... If only...".

As MPs mentioned other characters from The West Wing, the series accounted for 29 per cent of all choices. Its nearest rival was the deeply cynical House of Cards, originally a novel written by Conservative peer Michael Dobbs and subsequently adapted for TV in the UK and US. Taken together, Britain’s Francis Urquhart and America’s Frank Underwood account for 18 per cent of choices, and are cross-party favourites. One Labour MP dryly claimed Urquhart – who murders his way to Number 10 due to his obsession with the possession of power - "mirrors most closely my experience of politics".

Unsurprisingly, MPs nominated few women characters - politics remains a largely male world, as does political fiction. Only 14 per cent named a female character, the most popular being Birgitte Nyborg from Denmark’s TV series Borgen. Like The West Wing, the show presents politics as a place of possibility. Not all of those nominating Nyborg were female, although one female MP who did appeared to directly identify with the character, saying: "She rides a bike, has a dysfunctional life and isn't afraid of the bastards."

Perhaps the survey’s greatest surprise was which characters and series turned out to be unpopular. Jim Hacker of Yes Minister only just made it into the Top Five, despite one Conservative MP claiming the series gives a "realistic assessment of how politics really works". Harry Perkins, who led a left-wing Labour government in A Very British Coup received just one nomination – and not from an MP who might be described as a Corbynite. Only two MPs suggested characters from Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, which in the past claimed the likes of Harold MacMillan, Douglas Hurd and John Major as fans. And only one character from The Thick of It was nominated - Nicola Murray the struggling minister. 

The results suggest that MPs turn to political fiction for different reasons. Some claimed they liked their characters for – as one said of House of Cards's Frank Underwood – "the entertainment value". But others clearly identified with their favourites. There is clearly a preference for characters in series like The West Wing and Borgen, where politicians are depicted as ordinary people doing a hard job in trying circumstances. This suggests they are largely out of step with the more cynical presentations of politics now served up to the British public.

Top 5 political characters

Jed Bartlett - 22 per cent

Frank Underwood - 12 per cent

Francis Urquhart - 6 per cent

Jim Hacker - 6 per cent

Birgitte Nyborg - 6 per cent

Steven Fielding is Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham. Follow him @polprofsteve.