King hits back at Blanchflower

Bank of England governor rejects charges made by former MPC member in New Statesman article

A man who ruled the Bank of England with an "iron fist", who crushed dissenting voices and who encouraged the "tyranny of consensus". Those were a few of the choice words David Blanchflower had for Mervyn King in his exclusive account of his time at the Bank in this week's New Statesman.

The Bank of England governor was today forced to defend himself against Blanchflower's attack in front of the Treasury select committee. He denied sidelining sceptical voices on the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

"You can decide for yourself whether I do or do not have this iron fist, but look at the voting record," he said, noting that he had been outvoted three times in the past.

Blanchflower, who resigned from the MPC in May, was for months alone in warning that drastic interest-rate cuts were needed to defend the economy from the impending recession.

King today repeated his claim that earlier cuts in rates would not have diminished the force of the financial crisis, and argued that no one could have foreseen the size of the recession.

But he did confess to hauling Blanchflower into his office for a dressing-down after he criticised the Bank's August 2008 Inflation Report, in which the word "recession" did not feature, as "wishful thinking".

Blanchflower will be writing a weekly economics column for the New Statesman, starting in our issue of 28 September. If Mervyn King wants to hone his defence he'd be wise to pick up a subscription.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is the French Left having its Jeremy Corbyn moment?

Benoit Hamon won the first round of the Socialist party's presidential primaries. 

Has the French Left taken a Corbynite turn? That's certainly the verdict of many after the first round of the French Socialist Party's primary.

In first place is Benoit Hamon, who quit Francois Hollande's government over its right turn in 2014, and counts the adoption of a universal basic income, the legalisation of cannabis and the right to die among his policy proposals, with 36 per cent of the vote.

In second place and facing an uphill battle to secure the nomination is Manuel Valls, the minister who more than any other symbolized the rightward lurch of Hollande's presidency, with 31 per cent. That of the five eliminated candidates - under the French system, if no candidate secures more than half of the vote, the top two go through to a run-off round - only one could even arguably be said to be closer to Valls than Hamon shows the struggle he will have to close the gap next weekend. And for a variety of reasons, even supporters of his close ally Sylvia Pinel may struggle to put a tick in his box. 

Still, Valls clearly believes that electability is his best card, and he's compared Hamon to Corbyn, who "chose to remain in opposition". Also making the Hamon-Corbyn comparison is most of the British press and several high-profile activists in the French Republican Party.

Is it merited? The differences are probably more important than the similarities: not least that Hamon served as a minister until 2014, and came up through the backrooms. In terms of the centre of gravity and the traditions of his party, he is much closer in analogue to Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham than he is to Jeremy Corbyn, though Corbynistas and Hamonites bear a closer resemblance to one another than their leaders to.

What will give heart to the leader's office is that Hamon surged in the polls after each debate, when his ideas were given a bigger platform. But what will alarm everyone in Labour is the French Socialists' poll ratings - they are expected to get just 6 per cent in the elections. (And before you scoff at the polls, it's worth noting that they have, so far, performed admirably in the French electoral cycle, picking up on the lightning rise of both Hamon and Francois Fillon.)

That attests to something it's easy to forget in Westminster, where we tend to obsess over the United States and ignore politics on the Continent, despite the greater commonalities: throughout Europe, social democratic parties are in a fight for their lives, no matter if they turn to the left or the right.

The Democrats, in contrast, won the presidential election by close to three million votes and lost due to the electoral college. They have good prospects in the midterm elections and their greatest threat is gerrymandering and electoral malfeasance. But absent foul play, you'd have to be very, very brave to bet on them going extinct.

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