Miliband backs a National Investment Bank

The Labour's leader proposal is good economics and smart politics.

Ed Miliband's speech on banking this morning received little media attention, largely since the main points were previewed in his Mail on Sunday interview. But one story that few have noticed is that the Labour leader has come out in support of a National Investment Bank.

In an interview with the New Statesman last September, Miliband said: "It's an interesting idea. It's something Ed [Balls] and I have talked about. It's definitely an idea worth exploring." He went on to commission Nick Tott, a former partner of Herbert Smith LLP, to examine the case for such an institution. Toot's report has now been published and has concluded that "there is a strong case for a British Investment Bank." In his speech, Miliband said:

Partly because it’s always cheaper for banks to lend to big companies than small ones.

We don’t believe the banks we already have will be equal to the task of lending enough to small businesses.

That’s why we believe there is a case for a British Investment Bank.

Government recognising its role to guarantee lending to small business to provide the long-term finance it needs.

It was a similar institution in the United States which gave a young entrepreneur a loan in the early eighties when nobody else understood his sector.

His name was Steve Jobs.

And he founded Apple.

Every other major country understands that government needs to act to tackle this problem of financing.

It’s time that British business stopped having to compete with one hand tied behind its back.

As Robert Skidelsky argued in our special "plan B" issue last year, a National Investment Bank, with the power to borrow [unlike the coalition's Green Bank], and a mandate to invest in infrastructure, would both stimulate recovery and support long-term growth.

Miliband's decision to support the proposal is also smart politics. Vince Cable, who called for part of RBS to be converted into a National Investment Bank in a private letter to David Cameron, is growing increasingly frustrated with the coalition's failure to stimulate growth. In his interview with Andrew Marr yesterday, he accused the banks of "throttling the recovery" through their obsession with obsession with "short-term trading profits". It is precisely this problem that a National Investment Bank is designed to address. But the constraints of the coalition mean Cable is unable to say so. In coming out for an Investment Bank, Miliband is reminding the Lib Dems that they are, in many respects, closer to Labour on economic policy than the Tories.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said a National Investment Bank would provide "long-term finance". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: The great revolt

The vote for Brexit has plunged Labour and the Conservatives into crisis.

Britain has taken a great leap into the unknown. More than four decades after joining the European Economic Community, it has turned its back on a union of 27 other nations and 500 million people at a time of profound crisis in Europe. For the European Union, which has helped maintain peace and security in Europe for half a century, it is a great blow. The shock waves are being felt across the world.

We respect the wishes of the 17 million people who voted for Leave but strongly believe it was the wrong decision. Britain will be a diminished force for good in the world, unable to influence and shape events in Europe and beyond. The UK’s reputation as a proud, outward-looking, liberal and tolerant nation has been damaged. Many Britons feel that they no longer recognise or understand their own country, while foreign nationals living in Britain feel similarly perplexed, and even afraid. Young people, who voted overwhelmingly for Remain and will have to live with the consequences of Brexit the longest, are understandably aggrieved. Yet we should not condemn those who voted for Brexit, especially the less fortunate; rather, we should seek to understand and explain.

The only good thing to say about the referendum campaign is that it is over. Seldom have facts mattered so little, and nastiness and smears been allowed to carry the day. The Leave campaign was built on half-truths, false promises and more than a whiff of xenophobia. Its leaders dismissed warnings of negative consequences of Brexit – for the economy, and for the unity and political stability of the UK – as “Project Fear”. The Remain campaign’s intention may have been to scare voters with the claims, but that does not make them untrue.

Since the result became known, the pound has tumbled to a 30-year low against the US dollar. The FTSE 250 index of shares – the best proxy for the British economy – is down 11 per cent, even after a bounce on Tuesday. This is worrying for anyone who has a pension and is near retirement. Companies that were considering investing in Britain have put their plans on hold. Several big banks are weighing up whether to shift their operations abroad. Inflation is likely to rise and economic growth to fall. A recession is looming and many jobs will be lost. And for what? A vainglorious attempt by a feeble prime minister to settle a long-burning feud in the Conser­vative Party, and to satisfy the demands of Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party and the xenophobic right-wing press.

Investors hate uncertainty, but uncertainty is about the only thing that can be guaranteed. The breaThe vote for Brexit has plunged Labour and the Conservatives into crisis.k-up of the UK, only narrowly averted in 2014, is perhaps inevitable, with all the consequences for Britain as a world power. Scots voted to stay in the EU, and who can blame First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for agitating for a second independence referendum? Why should the Scottish people be dragged out of the EU against their democratically expressed wishes?

The vote for Brexit has plunged Labour and the Conservatives into crisis. David Cameron, who so recklessly gambled the country’s future on the referendum and will for ever be defined by his calamitous error, will be gone in September, his premiership an abject failure. His successor may well be the preposterous and mendacious Boris Johnson. Wit, ­energy and bombast are poor substitutes for truthfulness, honour and competence.

In his £5,000-a-week column for the Daily Telegraph on 26 June, Mr Johnson said that the Leave victory was not driven by fears over immigration, and the pound and the markets were stable. Both claims were false, as he well knew. His assertion that Britons’ rights to live, study, work and own property in Europe would be unaffected was equally misleading – this will have to be negotiated.

Not only are the Leave leaders in denial about the consequences of Brexit, they have given scandalously little thought to how Britain’s new relationship with the European Union might work in practice. The EU – which, as we said two weeks ago, is a troubled and failing institution – is in no mind to grant the UK any favours. Nor should it.

Mr Johnson wrote that Britain’s “access to the single market” will continue. As any of the “experts” of whom the Leave leaders were so dismissive during the campaign could have explained, for a non-member to obtain access to the EU’s single market, of the sort that Norway enjoys, it must accept freedom of movement. Perhaps Mr Johnson, who some suspect was a reluctant Brexiteer at heart, may be willing to accept this compromise if he becomes prime minister, as seems likely. Yet the majority of Leave voters will not: if it is forced upon them, their rage will make the anger that fuelled Brexit look like a child’s tantrum.

This article first appeared in the 30 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit lies