Cameron offers the eurozone advice

The PM offers advice to Europe but suggests little change at home.

David Cameron has made his big speech on the economy and the eurozone, focusing on the "three challenges" which Britain faces:

First, the struggle to recover from a long and deep recession at home.Second, the turbulence coming from the Eurozone. And third, the uncertainty over whether the world is on the right economic path, with debates about trade policy and how to support growth.

On the recession, the recent switch in emphasis from getting spending under control to building a sustainable plan for growth was in evidence. Cameron highlighted the reform to the planning regulations, which scrapped over 1000 pages of rules, the creation of 24 enterprise zones, and the regional growth fund. The latter has been panned as a costly mistake, but the Prime Minister suggested that it is on track to create 324,000 jobs – almost ten times as many as the National Audit Office predicted.

Internationally, Cameron was intent on offering advice which he doesn't seem to be particularly qualified to give, and which none of the recipients really want. He highlighted three things which the euro countries should do to keep the currency functioning properly:

First, the high deficit, low competitiveness countries in the periphery of the Eurozone do need to confront their problems head on. They need to continue taking difficult steps to cut their spending, increase their revenues and undergo structural reform to become competitive. The idea that high deficit countries can borrow and spend their way to recovery is a dangerous delusion.

Yes, point one: austerity! Of course, Italy and Spain are actually textbook practitioners of austerity already, and it hasn't done them a lot of good. But Cameron does also echo our leader today in calling for Germany to loosen monetary policy to make up for the absence of fiscal expansion, saying:

Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble is right to recognise rising wages in his country can play a part in correcting these imbalances but monetary policy in the Eurozone must also do more.

Cameron's second point calls for "governance arrangements that create confidence for the future":

As the British Government has been arguing for a year now that means following the logic of monetary union towards solutions that deliver greater forms of collective support and collective responsibility of which Eurobonds are one possible example. Steps such as these are needed to put an end to speculation about the future of the euro.

More collective support will irritate the already fuming Andrew Lilico, who wrote on Conservative Home today that Osborne and Brown should face criminal charges for the help already extended to Greece. Lilico wrote:

It cannot be acceptable for UK bureaucrats and ministers to act in clear defiance of the law, and then lose billions of pounds as a consequence of their nakedly illegal acts. That isn't just "one of those things". It is, in principle, actionable in much the same way as if the chief executive of your council acted clearly against the law and lost money by doing so. Ministers are not above the law, and are not entitled to defy Treaties, losing billions of pounds in the process, just because it seemed convenient to do so at the time.

Thirdly, Cameron argues that "we all need to address Europe’s overall low productivity and lack of economic dynamism":

Most EU member states are becoming less competitive compared to the rest of the world, not more. The Single Market is incomplete and competition throughout Europe is too constrained. Indeed, Britain has long been arguing for a pro-business, pro-growth agenda in Europe.

Cameron claiming a pro-growth agenda in Europe could be seen as faintly ironic. Lest we forget, Britain contracted last quarter while the eurozone merely stagnated. Perhaps this could be the government's new excuse for Britain's economic woes: we're pushing so hard for growth in Europe that we forgot to get any back home.

One line from Cameron was particularly welcome, however. Speaking about the right economic path to take post recession, he announced:

I’ve asked the Treasury to examine what more we can do to boost credit for business, housing and infrastructure.

We’ve taken the tough decisions to earn those low interest rates – so let’s make sure we’re putting them to good use. Building recovery is hard work because we are not reinflating the bubble but building a new model of growth. Some people asked why we didn’t have more economy Bills in the Queen’s Speech.  If you could legislate your way to growth, obviously we would. The truth is you can’t.

Despite the fact that many would argue that our low interest rates aren't "earned" at all, but merely a fortunate outcome of our low growth expectations, if we have them, we certainly should be using them. Let's see how the Prime Minister intends to do that.

Greek shoppers in Athens. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.