In this week’s New Statesman: The Lib Dem Conference Special

Richard Reeves makes the case for a "truly liberal party". PLUS: Robert Skidelsky on the coalition's "silent U-turn" on economic policy.

Richard Reeves: The case for a truly liberal party

In our magazine’s cover story this week, Nick Clegg’s former director of strategy – one of the most senior figures at the heart of government – writes exclusively for us on the future of the Liberal Democrats. In a substantial intervention ahead of the party’s annual conference, Reeves challenges the party to decide once and for all whether it is committed and has the courage to pursue the course that Clegg has charted. Read the full text online here.

 

Robert Skidelsky: Go left, go right... go downhill

After a “tepid recovery” from the 2008 collapse and a double td recession fuelled in part by Osborne’s austerity measures, Britain’s course to fiscal recovery looks conflicted. Political economist Robert Skidelsky takes a step back and asks: “What has gone wrong?”

It is true that a correlation isn’t a cause, but could it be that the earlier recovery had something to do with the stimulus, and the subsequent decline with the austerity? At any rate these are striking coincidences. By contrast, the United States, which escaped Dr Osborne’s cure, has continued to grow, albeit feebly.

It would be foolish to say that Osborne’s budgets have caused the slump. The charge is that his budgets, far from offsetting, have aggravated the collapse of demand that followed the banking crash of 2008. Austerity has not caused the economy to shrink, but has kept it from recovering.

Skidelsky presents the theoretic argument for fiscal stimulus as a means for economic growth, especially in an era of thrift where many citizens fear “living beyond their means”. He draws a clear picture:

The only thing they can do is to reduce their spending: that is, save more. But what happens if all households and firms try to increase their saving at the same time? Well, then the total spending in the economy will fall because everyone’s spending is someone else’s income. There will be less demand for goods and services and therefore for labour. Our collective attempts to get back into balance – get rid of our credit-card debt, as the Prime Minister likes to put it – will have made us all poorer, and, indeed, reduced the amount of saving as well, given that we will have smaller incomes out of which to save. So the economy will go on shrinking until the excess saving is eliminated by the growing poverty of the community.

New acts of saving, though virtuous for the individual, make us all poorer when the demand for new capital has declined. That is why Keynes rejected more saving as the remedy for a slump. The correct response was more spending. And if private agents lack the resources or incentive to increase their spending then the government needs to increase its own spending. This, in a nutshell, is the theory of the stimulus.

So what’s to be done? Slowly, the Conservatives have begun to acknowledge the Keynesian reality – “that to withdraw demand from an already demand-deficient economy will lead not to recovery, but to a shirking economy, a growing debt (private and public) and the need for more austerity.” He calls this acknowledgement the “silent U-turn”. He furthers:

The debate is broadly between the supply-siders and the demand-siders. The supply-siders argue that there is too little money in the economy, the demand-siders that there is too little spending power. It might seem that the two come to the same thing, but as Keynes pointed out, the holder of money has a choice: whether to “hoard” it or spend it. Those who argue that any increase in the money supply is bound to be spent on buying goods and services ignore the existence of “liquidity preference” – the desire to hold on to cash because of uncertainty about the future.

 

Aid for aristocrats

In an exclusive NS report, Jason Cowley and George Eaton investigate how some of the biggest landowners in the country are receiving millions in taxpayer subsidies each year. Under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, to which each British household contributes £245 a year, the Queen was last year paid £730,628 for her ownership of the Royal Farms Windsor and the Duchy of Lancaster, while Prince Charles received £127,868, and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar was paid £273,905 for his ownership of the 2,000-acre Glympton Estate in Oxfordshire, allegedly purchased with proceeds of the 1985 al-Yamamah arms deal between Britain and Saudi Arabia.

Britain has the most unequal land distribution in Europe after Spain, with 70 per cent of acreage held by just 0.28 per cent of the population, or 158,000 families.

Read an abbreviated version of the report here.

 

Rafael Behr: Why Ed Miliband should be grateful to the Lib Dems

In the Politics Column this week, Rafael Behr points out why the coalition hasn’t been entirely unbeneficial to the Labour agenda. Further isolating the Tories from the “already atrophied liberal wing” of their own party, Clegg’s destabilizing effect has perhaps done more to help than hinder. Behr writes:

Labour dismisses the Lib Dems’ policy contribution to government but they cannot deny that the junior partner’s assertiveness has provoked the Tory right and undermined Cameron’s authority. It has forced the Prime Minister to neglect the already atrophied liberal wing of his own party, meaning the project to modernise and “decontaminate” the Tory brand has stalled.

Then, as coalition relations soured and the intimacy of the early months threatened to dissolve Lib Dem identity, the party embarked on a strategy of “differentiation” that abetted Labour’s attacks on Cameron. Clegg’s implicit message has been that Conservative instincts are as sour as they were when the “nasty party” label hung around their necks. Coalition is meant to sweeten the mix.

Were another hung parliament to be in the draw, Miliband might have the Deputy PM to thank…

If Ed Miliband is in a position to form a government, it will be in no small measure because Clegg has hemmed the Tories into an ideological corner from where, history suggests, they struggle to reach a majority. That isn’t the reason most Conservative MPs, obsessed with the contamination of their purest policy ambitions, are angry with the Lib Dems. It is a reason why they should be.

 

Daniel Trilling: How New Labour opened the door to the far right

In an exclusive extract from his new book, Bloody Nasty People, Daniel Trilling reports on how the BNP gained a foothold in British politics: 

With first-hand reportage from England's north-west, including interviews with key figures from within the far right, he examines how Nick Griffin exploited ethnic tensions in the aftermath of the 2001 riots - and how the Labour leadership responded:

If voters in Burnley wanted the government’s attention, now they had it. Over the weekend of 15 and 16 June [2002], write Nigel Copsey and David Renton in British Fascism, the Labour Movement and the State (Palgrave Macmillan), Tony Blair met with senior strategists, chief among them his pollster Philip Gould, who warned that thousands of "angry young working-class men" were poised to desert Labour for the BNP.

[…]

But New Labour was in thrall to triangulation, the strategy which had helped the party defeat the Conservatives by occupying the political space normally held by the right, pushing them further away from the centre. What would it mean to "occupy" the space held by fascists?

Trilling challenges the former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, over his comments in 2002 that asylum seekers were "swamping" British schools - an echo of remarks made by Margaret Thatcher:

I visited Blunkett at his House of Commons office in the autumn of 2011. He denied pandering to racism. "My use of the word ‘swamped’ was specific. It means ‘overwhelmed’ and if you look at the dictionary   definition they’re interchangeable," he told me, still testy about the incident. Yet even though he now regretted his incautious use of wording, he defended the strategy: "My concern from 2001 onwards was to ensure that we didn’t allow that considerable progress that [far-right parties] were making in other parts of Europe to be reflected in Britain.

 

Plus:

Katherine Angel writes a candid piece of memoir about female sexuality and how for too long the subject has been limited by male definitions:

“Female sexuality – it’s everywhere, right? Our media are saturated with it; women pout out at us from every screen, unveil their desires in every story. Female sexuality: yawn.

But it’s not female sexuality that is everywhere. It’s not even, as many might argue, a fictive female sexuality, defined by the projections and fantasies of others. What is everywhere is anxiety about female sexuality, discomfort with female desire.”

 

Elsewhere in the New Statesman:

Our Critic At Large this week is John Gray writing on Thomas Hobbes, “an intrepid rationalist with an unwavering confidence in the power of reason – especially his own – to resolve immemorial human dilemmas”. Gray in particular reviews a new edition of Leviathan and argues: that Hobbes “had no interest in liberty or democracy as ends in themselves” and so “can be seen as the greatest exponent of enlightened despotism”.

In Books, Colin MacCabe reviews of Salman Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton for our lead essay. MacCabe recalls the era of the fatwa, in which “ours was one of many houses in which Salman Rushdie was always welcome as a guest after he had been condemned to death by the mullocracy in Tehran”. MacCabe writes that “the story Rushdie tells is never less than gripping. And there are moments, particularly in his description of his now regretted reconversion to Islam, when he writes as well as he has ever done”. Read the full review here.

Elsewhere in Books: Gary Imlach reviews Tyler Hamilton’s book about Lance Armstrong and doping on the Tour de France; Isabel Hilton reviews two books on China, The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future by Gerard Lemos and Scattered Sand: the Story of China’s Rural Migrants by Hsang-Hung Pai; and Jonathan Derbyshire interviews Paul Auster about his memoir, Winter Journal. Auster says:

The funny thing about writing about oneself is that I’m not very interested in myself. I use my own life as an example of what it means to be human. I just think of myself as anyone or everyone. I’m trying to share my experience with others as a way of establishing some kind of common humanity. What does it feel like to be alive? Isn’t that what all writers are trying to do?

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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A Fox among the chickens: why chlorinated poultry is about more than what's on your plate

The trade minister thinks we're obsessed with chicken, but it's emblematic of bigger Brexit challenges.

What do EU nationals and chlorinated chickens have in common? Both have involuntarily been co-opted as bargaining chips in Britain’s exit from the European Union. And while their chances of being welcomed across our borders rely on vastly different factors, both are currently being dangled over the heads of those charged with negotiating a Brexit deal.

So how is it that hundreds of thousands of pimpled, plucked carcasses are the more attractive option? More so than a Polish national looking to work hard, pay their taxes and enjoy a life in Britain while contributing to the domestic economy?

Put simply, let the chickens cross the Atlantic, and get a better trade deal with the US – a country currently "led" by a protectionist president who has pledged huge tariffs on numerous imports including steel and cars, both of which are key exports from Britain to the States. However, alongside chickens the US could include the tempting carrot of passporting rights, so at least bankers will be safe. Thank. Goodness. 

British farmers won’t be, however, and that is one of the greatest risks from a flood of "Frankenfoods" washing across the Atlantic. 

For many individuals, the idea of chlorinated chicken is hard to stomach. Why is it done? To help prevent the spread of bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter. Does it work? From 2006-2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an average of 15.2 cases of salmonella per 100,000 people in the US (0.015 per cent) – earlier figures showed 0.006 per cent of cases resulted in hospitalisation. In 2013, the EU reported the level at 20.4 cases per 100,000, but figures from the Food Standards Agency showed only 0.003 per cent of UK cases resulted in hospitalisation, half of the US proportion.

Opponents of the practice also argue that washing chickens in chlorine is a safety net for lower hygiene standards and poorer animal welfare earlier along the line, a catch-all cover-up to ensure cheaper production costs. This is strongly denied by governing bodies and farmers alike (and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who reignited the debate) but all in all, it paints an unpalatable picture for those unaccustomed to America’s "big ag" ways.

But for the British farmer, imports of chicken roughly one fifth cheaper than domestic products (coupled with potential tariffs on exports to the EU) will put further pressure on an industry already working to tight margins, in which many participants make more money from soon-to-be-extinct EU subsidies than from agricultural income.

So how can British farmers compete? While technically soon free of EU "red tape" when it comes to welfare, environmental and hygiene regulations, if British farmers want to continue exporting to the EU, they will likely have to continue to comply with its stringent codes of practice. Up to 90 per cent of British beef and lamb exports reportedly go to the EU, while the figure is 70 per cent for pork. 

British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths says that the UK poultry meat industry "stands committed to feeding the nation with nutritious food and any compromise on standards will not be tolerated", adding that it is a "matter of our reputation on the global stage.”

Brexiteer and former environment minister Andrea Leadsom has previously promised she would not lower animal welfare standards to secure new trade deals, but the present situation isn’t yet about moving forward, simply protecting what we already have.

One glimmer of hope may be the frozen food industry that, if exporting to the EU, would be unable to use imported US chicken in its products. This would ensure at least one market for British poultry farmers that wouldn't be at the mercy of depressed prices, resulting from a rushed trade deal cobbled together as an example of how well Britain can thrive outside the EU. 

An indication of quite how far outside the bloc some Brexiteers are aiming comes from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's current "charm" offensive in Australasia. While simultaneously managing to offend Glaswegians, BoJo reaffirmed trading links with the region. Exports to New Zealand are currently worth approximately £1.25bn, with motor vehicles topping the list. Making the return trip, lamb and wine are the biggest imports, so it’s unlikely a robust trade deal in the South Pacific is going to radically improve British farmers’ lives. The same is true of their neighbours – Australia’s imports from Britain are topped by machinery and transport equipment (59 per cent of the total) and manufactured goods (26 per cent). 

Clearly keeping those trade corridors open is important, but it is hard to believe Brexit will provide a much-needed boon for British agriculture through the creation of thus far blocked export channels. Australia and New Zealand don’t need our beef, dairy or poultry. We need theirs.

Long haul exports and imports themselves also pose a bigger, longer term threat to food security through their impact on the environment. While beef and dairy farming is a large contributor to greenhouse gases, good stock management can also help remove atmospheric carbon dioxide. Jet engines cannot, and Britain’s skies are already close to maximum occupancy, with careful planning required to ensure appropriate growth.

Read more: Stephen Bush on why the chlorine chicken row is only the beginning

The global food production genie is out of the bottle, it won’t go back in – nor should it. Global food security relies on diversity, and countries working and trading together. But this needs to be balanced with sustainability – both in terms of supply and the environment. We will never return to the days of all local produce and allotments, but there is a happy medium between freeganism and shipping food produce halfway around the world to prove a point to Michel Barnier. 

If shoppers want a dragon fruit, it will have to be flown in. If they want a chicken, it can be produced down the road. If they want a chlorinated chicken – well, who does?