Six reasons why Cameron is wrong on the economy

It is increasingly clear that the PM is out of his depth and out of touch. This is "nothing for noth

In a speech on the economy yesterday that was 2,235 words long, an out-of-touch David Cameron only mentioned jobs and unemployment once each. He didn't mention the young at all in a week when youth unemployment hit the million mark. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Cameron is a) totally out of his depth when it comes to the economy; b) has no clue what to do to fix the problem; c) has little sympathy for those who are less fortunate than he is. He just doesn't care. Cameron has failed to recognise that his government's economic policies are in complete disarray, and all he can do is resort to spin and obfuscation. Austerity in the UK has failed.

The part of the speech that really struck me was this:

[T]here are some who seriously try to argue that additional spending and borrowing will actually lead to less debt in the end ... despite the fact that no evidence supports this assertion. These arguments are just a way of avoiding difficult decisions ... the kind of something for nothing economics that got us into this mess ... which is why no indebted European country is taking that path. Nor are there any major European opposition parties in high deficit countries arguing for additional borrowing -­ except here in Britain.

It is about time we put this joker straight.

1) Actually, additional spending would stimulate growth and that would increase tax revenues, as it did in the US under the Clinton boom. In case you haven't noticed, Dave, your pal Osborne slashed spending and raised taxes, which increased borrowing. That is why you are in such a mess. What if the government borrowed £100bn that was funded by the MPC through QE, and used the money to say, build ten nuclear power stations. That would lower the cost of fuel, employ people and help masses of small and large firms. It would raise productivity and in the long-run lower our debts, wouldn't it? If not, why not, Prime Minister?

2) There is an enormous amount of evidence to suggest that fiscal and monetary stimulus can increase growth. There is actually no evidence from anywhere in the world to support the ideology you have been following of an expansionary fiscal contraction, especially when it is not possible to lower interest rates. Such a view is "oxymoronic", as Larry Summers has said.

3) These arguments are not a way of avoiding making difficult decisions. They are what has to happen, because your government made the wrong decisions by imposing austerity before the recovery was fully established. You can't blame the eurozone, as it was clear when you formed your government that there were major downside risks to UK recovery from the European periphery and European banks. You just chose to look the other way and go forward with your mistaken policies, wilfully disregarding the potential dangers for the British people.

4) "Something for nothing economics" is a nice phrase but is totally meaningless. If I recall, Dave, you matched Labour's spending plans, supported deregulation and opposed rescuing the banks. It looked like you may have to do the latter if things continue the way they are. Lloyds and RBS are in trouble again. What you did was slash and burn hoping for growth, but you killed off the tender shoots of recovery. The policies you have undertaken without a growth plan is "nothing for nothing economics".

5) "No indebted European country is taking this path." Well, actually, most other European countries grew faster than the UK did over the last twelve months. GDP growth was as follows. Belgium 1.8 per cent; Germany 2.6 per cent; France 1.6 per cent; Netherlands 1.1 per cent; Austria 2.8 per cent; Finland 2.8 per cent; and the UK 0.5 per cent. The eurozone is headed into recession because they are stuck in monetary union. Portugal this week went to the IMF and asked for more stimulus as austerity has failed there too. Austerity doesn't work when banks aren't lending and your major export market is heading into depression. The German central bank, the Bundesbank, today cut its 2012 growth forecast to between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent, from a June prediction of 1.8 percent. It said a "pronounced" period of economic weakness can't be ruled out if the crisis worsens.

6) "Nor are there any major European opposition parties in high deficit countries arguing for additional borrowing -­ except here in Britain". Denmark has lower bond yields than the UK and lower unemployment, and its new government is introducing more fiscal stimulus. These other countries would do this if they could, but they are stuck in a fiscal and monetary straightjacket. That is why there is talk of the eurozone breaking up.

Dave, you are in a big mess on the economy. What are you going to do if the crisis worsens, as it looks like it might? Panic, I guess.

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

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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.