The "overbearing tyranny" at the Bank of England

Blanchflower v King, Round Three

Round One, you may remember, in the very public row between Professor David "Danny" Blanchflower, a former independent member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee and the new weekly economics columnist here at the New Statesman, and Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England and one-time hawk on interest rates, kicked off on the pages of this magazine last week. In an exclusive article for the Statesman to coincide with the first anniversary of the financial crash, Blanchflower claimed that his old boss on the MPC ruled the Bank of England with an "iron fist", crushed dissenting voices and encouraged the "tyranny of consensus".

Round Two commenced yesterday in front of the Treasury select committee, where the Bank of England governor was forced to defend himself against Blanchflower's attack. "You can decide for yourself whether I do or do not have this iron fist, but look at the voting record," he said. And, as my colleague George Eaton pointed out on his blog yesterday: "King repeated his claim that earlier cuts in interest rates would not have diminished the force of the financial crisis and argued that no one could have foreseen the size of the recession." He also attacked Blanchflower's decision to publish his insider account in the New Statesman as "unwise and not sensible", and said that "Danny's recollection of events does not coincide with mine".

Round Three has now kicked off in earnest, after I asked Professor Blanchflower this morning for his response to the governor's comments. "I guess my main reaction is to say that it is the role of an independent member to speak up in the interests of the British people," he told me. "I disagreed with the overbearing tyranny." He added: "People are too scared to speak up."

On the governor's claim that earlier rate cuts would have been pointless, the professor is scathing. "If, as King argues, cutting rates earlier would have done little, then I guess his view is that we do not need an MPC at all, as it is, according to his view, entirely powerless."

What about his decision to go public with criticisms of his former colleagues at the Bank, including his explosive article in the NS? Was it the right thing to do? "It's what the British people should expect from an independent member [of the MPC]," he said. "I realised the MPC had made a mistake that needed correcting, so I spoke up.

"With hindsight, it turns out I was right to do so."

Over to you, Mervyn . .

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.