More on the Tories and the myth of government “waste”

John Maynard Keynes pooh-poohs Sir Stuart Rose et al.

My NS colleague and good friend, the economist and former MPC member David "Danny" Blanchflower, has asked me to highlight this letter, published in yesterday's Financial Times, which he co-authored with Robert Skidelsky.

Sir, How many of those business leaders who complain that raising National Insurance contributions is a "tax on jobs" realise that the "efficiency savings" that they demand would destroy jobs just as certainly?

Raising National Insurance contributions attacks jobs by reducing profits per unit of output: an "efficiency saving" by government cuts costs by putting someone out of work. Both measures aim to reduce the government deficit at the expense of jobs. That is why the government has wisely postponed raising NI contributions and cutting "waste" until economic recovery is under way.

The general point is that expenditure that would be "wasteful" in normal times can be useful in depressed times. When an economy is growing strongly we need to cut out waste; when it is depressed, what is called "wasteful" spending can keep up aggregate demand, employment and sales. Keynes might have been thinking of our eminent business leaders when he wrote that "common sense" is apt to prefer wholly wasteful forms of public spending such as unemployment benefits to partly wasteful forms such as over-manning in government agencies.

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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.