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Simon Wren-Lewis wins the 2016 New Statesman/SPERI Prize for Political Economy

The Oxford professor and former adviser to the Bank of England is rewarded for taking political economy to a lay audience.

The winner of the 2016 New Statesman/SPERI Prize for Political Economy is today announced as Professor Simon Wren-Lewis.

The respected macroeconomist has advised the Bank of England and is now a professor of economic policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University. He is the author of a lively, frequently updated and widely read blog, Mainly Macro.

The prize is jointly run by the New Statesman and the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) at the University of Sheffield.

It is given to the scholar who has succeeded most effectively in disseminating original and critical ideas in political economy to a wider public audience over the preceding two or three years. It carries an honorarium and an invitation to give a New Statesman/SPERI lecture in London.

This year’s lecture will be held on Tuesday, November 22 at the Emmanuel Centre in London at 6pm.

The judges chose Wren-Lewis because of his commitment to presenting his ideas in an accessible, challenging way for both professional and lay readers of his work. Recent subjects have included the economic untruths peddled in the Brexit debate, and how academics might have better engaged with the public.

Simon Wren-Lewis said: “I am delighted and honoured to receive the New Statesman/SPERI Prize, and I confess a little surprised given the strength of the shortlist. The move to austerity in most of the major countries in 2010 showed the importance of communicating economic knowledge to both policy makers and the public, and helped inspire my own efforts in that direction. As that policy continued despite mounting evidence of the harm it was doing, it became important to understand why policymakers were ignoring the academic consensus. With Brexit we find this consensus apparently ignored by the public. My prize lecture will ask why this is happening, and how economists and the media should respond.”

Professor Tony Payne, Director of SPERI, said: “Simon Wren-Lewis embodies excellently the mix of qualities we were all looking for in relation to the NS/SPERI Prize for Political Economy – namely, a critical mindset, originality in research and an active commitment to public engagement."

Helen Lewis, Deputy Editor of the New Statesman, said: “Far from having had enough of experts, this country needs them more than ever. The combination of insight, intelligence and accessibility in Simon’s writing makes him the perfect guide to our turbulent economic and political times.”

The Prize Jury was Helen Lewis, Deputy Editor of the New Statesman; George Eaton, Political Editor of the New Statesman; Professor Tony Payne, Director of SPERI; Professor Andrew Gamble, professorial fellow at SPERI; Rachel Laurence of the New Economics Foundation; and Lord (Stewart) Wood, former adviser to Ed Miliband MP.

The first biennial New Statesman/SPERI Prize was won in 2014 by Mariana Mazzucato, a professor in the economics of innovation at the University of Sussex. Her 2013 book The Entrepreneurial State contained a wealth of examples showing how the state – not just the private sector – could foster innovation.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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

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