Paul Krugman said Labour was "weak". Source: Getty Images
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Mehdi Hasan interviews Paul Krugman: Labour is "weak" in its opposition to cuts

The Nobel economist is scathing in his criticism of the two Eds.

In person, Paul Krugman is short, shy and quiet. But the Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist isn’t afraid to hurl verbal hand grenades at his opponents – as I discovered to my amusement when I caught up with him on a visit to London this past week.

Krugman, who was in town to plug his new book End This Depression Now!, struggled to find anything positive to say about the EU’s leaders, President Barack Obama or the Israeli government. But it was the Princeton University professor’s comments about the Labour Party that stood out for me.

He was scathingly critical of Labour’s “weak” opposition to the Conservative-led coalition’s spending cuts. “Certainly, economically, they’re too cautious,” he said, dismissing the party’s plan to halve the deficit over four years.

His comments will make uneasy reading for the two Eds, Balls and Miliband, who are petrified of being tagged as “deficit deniers” by their right-wing critics. Under pressure from the Blairites inside the party, they have been trying to find the right balance between opposing the coalition’s austerity measures in the short run and supporting deficit reduction and cuts in the long run.

Krugman seemed to have little sympathy for them: Labour’s position on austerity, he told me, “has been a kind of ‘We’re like them but only less so’. And it does come across as fairly weak.” He continued: “It does seem odd that when you ask me: ‘Where is the really effective intellectual opposition coming from?’, it seems to be think-tank people and journalists. The opposition is Martin Wolf [of the Financial Times], Jonathan Portes [of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research], Simon Wren-Lewis [of Oxford University], David Blanchflower [of the New Statesman] and me.”

That, he said, is a “sad commentary” on the state of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

To add insult to injury, the Nobel laureate had high praise and much sympathy for Miliband’s predecessor, the much-maligned Gordon Brown. “He has been treated unfairly by history,” he said. “Yes, [Brown] made mistakes, but he is a much better guy than his current reputation suggests.”

I asked Krugman if he stood by his now-famous October 2008 description of the former prime minister as the leader who “saved the world financial system”. The economist nodded furiously. “Yes, he took the lead on the financial rescue which did save the world,” he told me. Without [Brown’s leadership], things would have been much, much worse. He was a smart guy.”

Krugman, a long-standing critic of the European single currency, was also keen to remind me how it was Brown who, as chancellor of the exchequer during the late 1990s, “kept Britain out of the euro. It would be a catastrophe here if Britain were in the euro.”

My full interview with the professor will appear in the New Statesman later this year.

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.

PETER KOHALMI/AFP/Getty Images
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Why are refugees throwing themselves on train tracks in Hungary?

Hungarian authorities have stopped a train carrying refugees from Budapest. 

Hungarian police have stopped a train full of refugees bound for the Austrian border. Other passangers were taken off to board a replacement train, while police attempted to have the refugees disembark at the Hungarian town of Bickse, where there is a migrant detention centre.

The Gulf Today reports that some of those on board were banging on the windows chanting "no camp, no camp", referring to the detention centre.

More than 2,000 migrants have been waiting outside Budapest's main station to board trains to Germany and Austria, although few intercity trains are running. Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, has said that the crisis is a "German problem" and that Europe has a moral imperative not to encourage refugees. Speaking in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Orban has talked of defending Europe's "Christian values" against a "flood" from overseas.

ITV's Europe Editor, James Mates, has followed the train in Hungary and is posting updates via Twitter. He reports that it initially left Budapest station with most of those on board assuming it would continue to Austria:

The train was then stopped in Bickse, around 30 miles outside Budapest, where riot police were there to meet it.

As the refugees realised that they weren't going to get to Austria, they began to protest, and were corralled by riot police:

Ultimately, the police were unable to force the refugees to go to the camp, and had to let them reboard the train.

The train is now waiting in the station. Police are now handing out bottled water, but it's unclear what will happen next.

Follow James Mates on Twitter here.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland