Labour's economic challenge

Ed Miliband needs to make sure his colleagues understand the need for radical change.

The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, appeared on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show this morning. Harman was asked by Marr about the new kind of economy envisaged by Ed Miliband in his speech to Labour conference last month. Her rather unconvincing answers tended to confirm the analysis of the chief economist of the IPPR Tony Dolphin, who argued here recently that it's much harder to articulate a new economic paradigm than it is simply to assert that things need to change.

Dolphin wrote that "Distinguishing between 'predators' and 'producers' was an unnecessary hostage to fortune". Questions about good and bad businesses drown out, Dolphin went on, the "arguments of thinkers such as Will Hutton, Anatole Kaletsky and William Baumol over different models of capitalism". Marr duly asked whether Top Shop boss Sir Philip Green was a predator or a producer. Harman replied somewhat uneasily that "it's not about individuals", rather confirming Dolphin's fears.

Miliband and Labour's main problem, according to Dolphin, is that "there is no new well-developed economic model - comparable to monetarism in the 1970s - sitting on the shelf waiting for him to pick it up and champion it. He therefore faces a tough decision. Does he want to tinker at the edges with the existing model - a bit more banking regulation here, an employee representative on a company board there? ... Or is he prepared to make the case for more radical change and to champion those independent voices in economics that are not heard enough? "

When Marr invited her to elaborate on Labour's vision of a new economy, Harman did make it sound as if all Labour has in mind is to tighten up the regulatory framework governing financial services. But I suspect Miliband doesn't want to take to the easier of the two options Dolphin described and does want to "make the case for radical change". If that's true, then he needs to make sure his colleagues, Harriet Harman included, understand just what he has in mind.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR