Mark Carney: spending cuts have been "a drag on growth"

The Bank of England governor tells MPs what George Osborne doesn't want you to hear.

The most politically significant moment during Mark Carney's apperance before the Treasury select committee came when the Bank of England governor stated that "fiscal adjustment" (spending cuts and tax rises) "has been a drag on growth". 

This might appear to put him at odds with George Osborne who in his speech on the economy earlier this week, derided the "fiscalists" who claimed that the cuts had been more damaging than expected. But the Tory Treasury Twitter account has responded by stating that Carney's comments are "consistent" with Osborne's argument that the OBR's 2010 fiscal multipliers (which measure the effect of cuts and tax rises on growth) were not too optimistic. 

The Treasury did, however, refuse to concede that the cuts had, at least to some extent, depressed growth. As David Cameron was reminded by Robert Chote earlier this year (when he suggested that austerity had not hit output), the OBR's multipliers assume that "every £100 of fiscal consolidation measures reduce GDP in that year by around £100 for capital spending cuts, £60 for welfare and public services, £35 for increases in the VAT rate and £30 for income tax and National Insurance increases". Fiscal consolidation is estimated to have reduced GDP by 1.4 per cent in 2011-12 alone.

Cameron and Osborne are understandably reluctant to admit that the cuts mean growth has been lower than in normal circumstances. It allows Labour to argue that a less aggressive deficit reduction plan would have enabled higher levels of output. Which explains why you can expect Ed Balls and Ed Miliband to leap with glee on Carney's quote and the Tories to try and act as if they never heard him. 

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, during a press conference following an address to business leaders in Nottingham on August 28, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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