Is a hung parliament best for the left?

Anthony Barnett argues that the left has a duty to kick out New Labour.

Here at New Statesman Towers we're just putting the finishing touches to this week's magazine, but I wanted to tell you about the remarkable polemic from Anthony Barnett you'll find in it.

Barnett, the co-founder of Charter 88 and openDemocracy pioneer, launches a ferocious attack on Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson and argues that all left liberals have a duty to vote New Labour out of power.

But he has little time for those who claim that David Cameron's Conservatives offer a credible alternative. The Ashcroft affair, he writes, confirmed that the two parties inhabit the same "corrupt conservatory".

Instead, he calls on voters to support the candidate most likely to increase the number of independent and third-party MPs, and produce a hung parliament.

Here are two key extracts:

We need to hang parliament and hang the two main parties. We need to vote Brown and Mandelson out, first of all, but not vote Cameron and company in to carry on where Labour has left off. We need a hung parliament so that invention and new voices are registered, so that the public can express how it has lost trust in the political class, and different forces be allowed to reshape the political scene.

Those on the left should help Britain vote out New Labour, but frustrate the Cameroons. Brown, Mandelson and Blair had an unprecedented opportunity to reform the British system with public support. Instead, they chose to intensify the centralisation of power.

Unsurprisingly, Barnett's definitive break with the Labour leadership has already provoked a hostile reaction from some. So, in the first of a series of replies to the piece, the distinguished academic David Marquand rejects calls for a hung parliament and accuses Barnett of preferring a minority Cameron government to any sort of Labour administration.

Make sure you pick up the new issue tomorrow and join the debate about the future of the left.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Forget gaining £350m a week, Brexit would cost the UK £300m a week

Figures from the government's own Office for Budget Responsibility reveal the negative economic impact Brexit would have. 

Even now, there are some who persist in claiming that Boris Johnson's use of the £350m a week figure was accurate. The UK's gross, as opposed to net EU contribution, is precisely this large, they say. Yet this ignores that Britain's annual rebate (which reduced its overall 2016 contribution to £252m a week) is not "returned" by Brussels but, rather, never leaves Britain to begin with. 

Then there is the £4.1bn that the government received from the EU in public funding, and the £1.5bn allocated directly to British organisations. Fine, the Leavers say, the latter could be better managed by the UK after Brexit (with more for the NHS and less for agriculture).

But this entire discussion ignores that EU withdrawal is set to leave the UK with less, rather than more, to spend. As Carl Emmerson, the deputy director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, notes in a letter in today's Times: "The bigger picture is that the forecast health of the public finances was downgraded by £15bn per year - or almost £300m per week - as a direct result of the Brexit vote. Not only will we not regain control of £350m weekly as a result of Brexit, we are likely to make a net fiscal loss from it. Those are the numbers and forecasts which the government has adopted. It is perhaps surprising that members of the government are suggesting rather different figures."

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, to which Emmerson refers, are shown below (the £15bn figure appearing in the 2020/21 column).

Some on the right contend that a blitz of tax cuts and deregulation following Brexit would unleash  higher growth. But aside from the deleterious economic and social consequences that could result, there is, as I noted yesterday, no majority in parliament or in the country for this course. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.