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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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad