Will the ECB carry on bullying governments into doing what it wants?

The central bank sees the merit of the carrot and the stick. Democracy? Not so much.

The European Central Bank announces its next monetary policy decision at 1:30pm today, and here's hoping it's a good one.

The eurozone is by no means fixed, and as Alphaville's Izabella Kaminska points out:

The ECB’s accomodative policy has failed to make an impact due to a broken transmission mechanism. Under its own mandates, this leaves the ECB open to the use of unconventional tactics to get it going again.

What sort of unconventional tactics? Well, the expected plan looks to be to begin primary debt purchases – the ECB will start to buy debt directly from the European Stability Mechanism (the organisation in charge of the eurozone bailouts).

But the really worrying possibility in today's announcement is highlighted by Slate's Matt Yglesias:

Here's Philipp Rösler, Vice-Chancellor of Germany and Economy Minister, offering the clearest account yet of how European monetary policy has gone so far off the rails:

“If you take away the interest rate pressure on individual states, you also take away the pressure for them to reform.”

The view here is that because countries ought to pursue good pro-growth structural policies, central banks ought to create unfavorable monetary conditions as a way of pressuring countries to pursue structural reforms.

Yglesias points out that this tactic makes it impossible to tell which structural reforms have actually worked, but the other massively damaging aspect is what it does to the democratic legitimacy of the Bank. They are using their one tool, not to improve the economy of the eurozone, but to cajole elected governments into doing things they wouldn't do otherwise. It's the sort of thing that makes a person take Nigel Farage seriously.

Protesters camp outside the ECB in Frankfurt in October 2011. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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