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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 regularly appears on BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and the News Quiz, and BBC1’s Sunday Politics. 

Arsène Wenger. Credit: Getty
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My biggest regret of the Wenger era? How we, the fans, treated him at the end

Arsenal’s greatest coach deserved better treatment from the Club’s supporters. 

I have no coherent memories of Arsenal before Arsène Wenger, who will leave the Club at the end of the season. I am aware of the Club having a new manager, but my continuous memories of my team are of Wenger at the helm.

They were good years to remember: three league titles, seven FA Cups, the most of any single manager in English football. He leaves the Club as the most successful manager in its history.

I think one of the reasons why in recent years he has taken a pasting from Arsenal fans is that the world before him now seems unimaginable, and not just for those of us who can't really remember it. As he himself once said, it is hard to go back to sausages when you are used to caviar, and while the last few years cannot be seen as below par as far as the great sweep of Arsenal’s history goes, they were below par by the standards he himself had set. Not quite sausages, but not caviar either.

There was the period of financial restraint from 2005 onwards, in which the struggle to repay the cost of a new stadium meant missing out on top player. A team that combined promising young talent with the simply bang-average went nine years without a trophy. Those years had plenty of excitement: a 2-1 victory over Manchester United with late, late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry, a delicious 5-2 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur, and races for the Champions League that went to the last day. It was a time that seemed to hold the promise a second great age of Wenger once the debt was cleared. But instead of a return to the league triumphs of the past, Wenger’s second spree of trophy-winning was confined to the FA Cup. The club went from always being challenging for the league, to always finishing in the Champions League places, to struggling to finish in the top six. Again, nothing to be sniffed at, but short of his earlier triumphs.

If, as feels likely, Arsenal’s dire away form means the hunt for a Uefa Cup victory ends at Atletico Madrid, many will feel that Wenger missed a trick in not stepping down after his FA Cup triumph over Chelsea last year, in one of the most thrilling FA Cup Finals in years. (I particularly enjoyed this one as I watched it with my best man, a Chelsea fan.) 

No one could claim that this season was a good one, but the saddest thing for me was not the turgid performances away from home nor the limp exit from the FA Cup, nor even finishing below Tottenham again. It was hearing Arsenal fans, in the world-class stadium that Wenger built for us, booing and criticising him.

And I think, that, when we look back on Wenger’s transformation both of Arsenal and of English football in general, more than whether he should have called it a day a little earlier, we will wonder how Arsenal fans could have forgotten the achievements of a man who did so much for us.

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