Cameron and Miliband at odds over Brown’s IMF bid

Labour leader insists Gordon Brown would be a “strong candidate” after PM vows to block any bid.

David Cameron has made waves this morning with his hint that he would block any attempt by Gordon Brown to become the new head of the International Monetary Fund. With classic English understatement, he told the Today programme that Brown "might not be the most appropriate person to work out whether other countries around the world have debt and deficit problems".

He added: "Above all, what matters is that the person running the IMF [is] someone who understands the dangers of excessive debt, excessive deficit, and it really must be someone who gets that, rather than someone who says that they don't see a problem."

The reason this issue has arisen now is that Brown was openly networking at last week's economic conference in Bretton Woods, birthplace of the IMF. He is now routinely described as the "favourite" to take over from Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose considerable talents are badly needed by the French Socialist Party.

DSK, as he's known in France, is due to step down in November 2012 but may quit earlier to stand in next year's presidential election.

At this morning's press conference at Labour HQ, Ed Miliband was asked to respond to Cameron's comments. He said the Prime Minister was "slightly jumping the gun" because there isn't a vacancy at the IMF, but added that Brown was "eminently qualified" for the job and would be a "strong candidate".

It would have been heretical for the Labour leader to say anything else, but he has handed Cameron another opportunity to play his favourite "son of Brown" riff.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How will Theresa May meet her commitment to low-earners?

The Prime Minister will soon need to translate generalities into specifics. 

The curtailed Conservative leadership contest (which would not have finished yet) meant that Theresa May had little chance to define her agenda. But of the statements she has made since becoming prime minister, the most notable remains her commitment to lead a government "driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours." 

When parliament returns on 5 September, and the autumn political season begins, May will need to translate this generality into specifics. The defining opportunity to do so will be the Autumn Statement. Originally intended by George Osborne to be a banal update of economic forecasts, this set-piece more often resembled a second Budget. Following the momentous Brexit vote, it certainly will under Philip Hammond. 

The first priority will be to demonstrate how the government will counter the threat of recession. Osborne's target of a budget surplus by 2020 has wisely been abandoned, granting the new Chancellor the freedom to invest more in infrastructure (though insiders make it clear not to expect a Keynesian splurge).

As well as stimulating growth, Hammond will need to reflect May's commitment to those "just managing" rather than the "privileged few". In her speech upon becoming prime minister, she vowed that "when it comes to taxes, we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you". A natural means of doing so would be to reduce VAT, which was increased to a record high of 20 per cent in 2010 and hits low-earners hardest. Others will look for the freeze on benefit increases to be lifted (with inflation forecast to rise to 3 per cent next year). May's team are keenly aware of the regressive effect of loose monetary policy (low interest rates and quantitative easing), which benefits wealthy asset-owners, and vow that those who lose out will be "compensated" elsewhere. 

A notable intervention has come from Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative chair of the Treasury select committee. He has called for the government to revive the publication of distributional analyses following Budgets and Autumn Statements, which was ended by George Osborne last year (having been introduced by the coalition in 2010). 

In a letter to Hammond, Tyrie wrote: "I would be grateful for an assurance that you will reinstate the distributional analysis of the effects of the budget and autumn statement measures on household incomes, recently and mistakenly discontinued by your predecessor." He added: "The new prime minister is committing her government to making Britain a country that works 'not for a privileged few, but for every one of us'. A high level of transparency about the effects of tax and welfare policy on households across the income distribution would seem to be a logical, perhaps essential starting point." 

Whether the government meets this demand will be an early test of how explicit it intends to be in reducing disparities. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.