For the hard of thinking

Labour lost another giant from its front bench today after shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden was sacked by Jeremy Corbyn. If you followed the news today, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was sacked for his views on terrorism and security. That’s certainly what his pal Chris Leslie pretended he thought anyway:

Can this possibly be true? Some background first. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, Corbyn was interviewed by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and answered a question about shoot to kill policy in a way which was spun into him saying he wouldn’t want police to shoot-to-kill terrorists about to murder people on the streets of London. The very next day, David Cameron gave a statement in the House of Commons about the Paris attacks.

One after another, Labour MPs used this as an excuse to either distance themselves from Corbyn by praising Cameron, or to make thinly veiled attacks both directly on Corbyn (without naming him) and by proxy, on the Stop the War Coalition. The aforementioned Chris Leslie went first:

“The Prime Minister is right that the police and the security services need our full support at this time. Should it not be immediately obvious to everyone—to everyone—that the police need the full and necessary powers, including the proportionate use of lethal force if needs be, to keep our communities safe?”

Next up, Emma Reynolds:

“Does the Prime Minister agree that full responsibility for the attacks in Paris lies solely with the terrorists and that any attempt by any organisation to somehow blame the west or France’s military intervention in Syria is not only wrong and disgraceful, but should be condemned?”

Quickly followed up by now sacked Pat McFadden:

“May I ask the Prime Minister to reject the view that sees terrorist acts as always being a response or a reaction to what we in the west do? Does he agree that such an approach risks infantilising the terrorists and treating them like children, when the truth is that they are adults who are entirely responsible for what they do? No one forces them to kill innocent people in Paris or Beirut. Unless we are clear about that, we will fail even to understand the threat we face, let alone confront it and ultimately overcome it.”

Here’s Mike Gapes:

“The content and tone of the Prime Minister’s statement spoke not just for the Government, but for the country.”

Finally Ian Austin:

“I agree with everything the Prime Minister said about Syria and terrorism. Does he agree with me that those who say that Paris is reaping the whirlwind of western policy or that Britain’s foreign policy has increased, not diminished, the threats to our national security not only absolve the terrorists of responsibility, but risk fuelling the sense of grievance and resentment that can develop into extremism and terrorism?”

Most of these comments are rather uncontroversial taken at face value. They are phrased in the style of an obsequious back bencher’s softball opening question at PMQs – a nice easy lob for Cameron to smash back into the open court. Cameron actually answered with a straight bat to these questions, but he was obviously in his element. Why would opposition MPs want to ask softball questions to the opposition phrased in a way to cause embarrassment to the party leader? Obviously to undermine Corbyn who they never accepted as leader. These are questions that go without saying. Except perhaps Austin’s dumb question, everybody agrees with them, Corbyn included, but by asking them, they strongly imply otherwise.

All but one of the questioners above though were back benchers, free to speak as they wish. The one who wasn’t though, was Pat McFadden. Which other leader would have taken that and not sacked the person in question?

Pat McFadden took his seat on the back benches this morning. Who was he sitting with for support?

 

The bad economics of ‘top Labour figure’ would keep Tories in power

The Guardian reported comments made by current Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie today in an article headlined “Corbyn’s economic strategy would keep Tories in power, top Labour figure says”. To me it says much more about the Labour right than anything Corbyn has come up with. It’s the mode of thinking Leslie expresses that will really keep the Tories in power. If Corbyn does win, he needs to make a clean break from the sloppy thinking set out in the Guardian’s article.

The current view on the economy in the Labour Party is identical to to that expressed by the Conservatives (but completely at odds with what most sensible economists would advocate). That is to say they think is the government’s deficit gets too high, and the total stock of debt gets too high, ‘the markets’ will start to doubt the government will be able to repay their debts and interest rates will rise, which will mean the government actually can’t repay its debts and may have to default, leading to economic ‘chaos’. To mitigate this risk, the government needs to cut spending/raise taxes to try and reduce its deficit in order to get the public finances back on a sustainable track.

It’s not clear at all to me that the Conservatives actually believe this argument, but that’s the one they have been endlessly repeating and which Labour apparently agree with. The trouble is though, if you accept this argument as true, Labour’s calls for ‘fairer cuts’ looks incredibly weak and makes it easy to attack. I don’t see how Labour can win with this argument, but the media and the Westminster establishment seem to think it’s an absolute must. I got an email from the Liz Kendall team today giving me a long list of nice sounding ideas (with no detail) about her ‘vision’ for the country, but while maintaining this wrong model of how the economy works, she and others in the Labour Party can argue for nothing more than that they will be better managers that the Conservatives. If you buy the argument on deficits and nobody is disputing that version of reality, surely you would just vote Tory?

The current view however, is nonsense. The economy just doesn’t work like that. The government always has as much money as it needs. High deficits don’t lead to higher rates, and there is no chance the UK would ever default on its debts. What we need is someone who gets this and doesn’t let bad economics prevent them for arguing for what needs to be done. Can Corbyn be that person?

The UK’s budget deficit creeps back up.

Figures released today by the ONS show that for the first 6 months of this financial year, the government’s budget deficit has increased by 10% over the same period last year. But should we care? Labour certainly thinks so. Shadow Treasury spokesman Chris Leslie said:

“These figures are a serious blow to George Osborne. Not only is he set to break his promise to balance the books by next year, but borrowing in the first half of this year is now 10% higher than the same period last year. As the [Office for Budget Responsibility] said last week, stagnating wages and too many people in low-paid jobs are leading to more borrowing.”

Chris Leslie is probably right in the sense that the figures are a blow to George Osborne – at least in the minds of those in the media bubble who think the deficit is the all encompassing issue for the General Election. For most people though, other factors like jobs, housing and wages are likely to be more important factors for floating voters.

In a way we should be glad the deficit remains high. For all the talk, and while certain sections of society have been clobbered by austerity measures, overall, government spending continues to make a positive contribution  to growth. George Osborne has failed utterly to meet the targets for deficit reduction he set himself, but we should be thankful for that. If he had succeeded, we’d probably be failing down a pretty deep hole right now.

There is another sense that Leslie is correct though. While the size of the deficit doesn’t really matter (at least at the moment anyway), the fact the tax receipts are weak could be an indication of poor wage and productivity growth, which is definitely something Labour should be banging on about (but preferably only when they have a proper policy of their own to address the problem).