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Buy the next election Austin Mitchell advises Gordon Brown. I mean, of course, implement Keynesian policies. It’s not the worst idea I’ve heard. August 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, British Politics.

According to ‘veteran backbencher’, old Labourite (of sorts) and strong eurosceptic (he represented Great Grimsby, it might have been something about fish) Austin Mitchell who writes in Tribune:

…we [British Labour] already display too many of the symptoms of a government at the end of its tether: the bickering, the declining enthusiasm, the shuffling positioning and repositioning of leadership contenders, along with escapist dreams about a period in opposition in order to get our heads straight.

Sensible stuff. His solution.

Our key problems are declining demand and unprofitable production. So we should tackle both by encouraging demand, splashing out money in tax rebates, fuel allowances, pensions and benefits, as well as reducing interest rates substantially. Without mentioning the dread word “devaluation”, the pound should be allowed to continue the fall it has already begun as a consequence of benign neglect. This would boost exports and make British production profitable and competitive.

And not just that, but also:

We should add the stimulus of a big house-building programme paid for by the Government, because neither the private sector nor the housing associations can now do it. It should all be financed by Government borrowing. The resulting Keynesian jamboree would provide a substantial diet of his own words for the Prime Minister to eat, but it would boost growth and avoid the damage of deflation. The twin bogeymen of gaping deficits and galloping inflation are likely to frighten the electorate rather less than they frighten the Bank of England. Even if either were to develop – which is unlikely – they could be dealt with after our successful re-election.

It’s sort of refreshing to hear this sort of prescription, not least because it latches into a discourse about public good which simply seems to have vanished in both the UK and indeed in Ireland. It is simply amazing how public housing has been ignored in both countries as an element of the public and political discourse. Despite the oceans of ink given over to commercial property, and the now clear linkage in the public mind between property developers (particularly in the RoI) the next logical part of the chain, that this represents private ousting public simply doesn’t seem to be acknowledged. There are no mass public housing programmes because the private sector has climbed into bed with politicians. Or vice versa. It can be difficult to determine the state of play at any given moment.

It’s also nice to read something that realistically engages with the core truth that the private sector, for all the boosterism of its cheerleaders [and for a critique of precisely that sort of boosterism consider this piece by Michael Taft on the latest example in the Irish Times of ‘A capitalist writes…’.] is patently unable to deliver the sort of outcomes that are proposed.

But the political import is obvious. Particularly in the context of a looming British General Election.

If all this builds up into a death wish, it won’t just be fatal for Labour, but for an economy which needs rebalancing towards investment and production. It would signify a major step backward, because, although the Conservatives haven’t yet noticed, the national mood is moving back to favour regulation, public services and spending, state intervention and moving away from Thatcherism and failed market ideologies.

This is what is particularly puzzling about the UK context. Ironically New Labour has shown the limits of an aversion to private adventures in the market and pointed to the necessity for state intervention. Yet, due to their seeming inability to recognise this, or do what they’ve harangued the rest of us to do for years, adapt and change, those inside NL seem besotted with policies that are simply inappropriate to the current time.

This is why Gordon Brown, the prudent Presbyterian on his miserable British holiday in his respectable suit, is also in the last chance saloon. Unless he takes decisions far tougher than those he has congratulated himself on for so long and opts for economic sense rather than further deference to finance and business, then it’s morituri te salutamus – we who are about to die salute you. But not much.

One can’t blame Mitchell his cynicism, although let us note that he himself was a nominee of Brown to the Labour leadership in that dim and distant era of … er… 2007. The days just fly past, don’t they?

And he finishes…

Have a good holiday, Prime Minister, but please come back giving us a big dose of “New world, new Gordon”. It’s only a year late.

It’s a strong social democrat line.

It’s not going to be implemented.

Not least because he may take some comfort in a poll released yesterday that suggests that Milliband or Brown, Cameron beats them both by 21%.

The findings offer plenty of food for thought for those Labour MPs weighing up whether to take action to force Brown out. The poll suggests Miliband would be no more popular with voters than Brown if he were thrown into a contest with Cameron.

Asked to say which of Cameron and Brown would make the best prime minister, 42% of those polled say Cameron, 21% say Brown and 23% say neither. When voters are asked to choose between Cameron and Miliband, 40% say Cameron, 19% say Miliband and 18% say neither.

I love these polls which posit entirely hypothetical situations. While no supporter of Milliband doesn’t it strike anyone as telling that a man with considerably less public profile than the Prime Minister of UKGB & sort of NI is now at a point of parity in such polls.

Troubling stuff in the raw data too.

Miliband is seen as “more on my wavelength” by more voters and was considered to be most looking to the future. He is seen as having the widest appeal by a large 38% to 8% margin over Brown, and as making those asked “more likely to vote Labour”, by a narrower gap, 18% to 14%.

Brown generally scores better among intended Labour voters. But Tory and Lib Dem voters are more likely to vote Labour with Miliband at the helm. Some 19% of Conservative voters say they are more likely to vote Labour led by Miliband, compared to 3% for Brown; and 28% of Lib Dem voters say they are more likely to vote Labour if Miliband is leader, compared to 14% for Brown.

So, damned if they don’t, almost certainly, but perhaps a hint of wriggle room if they do. I’m not betting on it. If this version of the Labour party can be characterised by anything it is an excess of caution. Fine when in opposition slowly slowly trying to regain authority. Poison itself when in government and heading for the rocks. Which is in part why I agree with Mitchell’s thoughts.

And consider the broader poll findings.

The Tories are on 44%, up one, Labour on 29%, up one, and the Liberal Democrats are unchanged on 19%. At a general election, that would translate into the loss of 140 Labour seats and a majority of more than 100 for the Tories. Though Labour’s share of the vote has crept up in the last two months, the result is still its worst August rating since the early 1980s.

Now, assume that local variation creeps in and the results might be a little more mixed. But then think of Scotland and the recent SNP victory and wonder what sort of ‘mixed’ in terms of even slightly better news for Labour.

And meanwhile the man who would be king brings his message of vague good cheer to a waiting people:

Cameron promises: ” I am going to be as radical a social reformer as Mrs Thatcher was an economic reformer, and radical social reform is what the country needs now. Just as Margaret Thatcher mended the broken economy in the 1980s, so we want to mend Britain’s broken society in the early decades of the 21st century … it’s dealing with the issues of family breakdown, welfare dependency, failing schools, crime and the problems that we see in too many of our communities.”

Wait a second. Isn’t there some sort of cause and effect going on there? Don’t think I’d push that line too much David.


1. David Gerard - August 19, 2008

Oh, I dunno. I think Labour still has hope of picking a winner for the top job. (Or not.)


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[…] the mag’s discussion of the Labour leadership crisis. As luck would have it, WorldbyStorm has some pertinent points to make in re Austin Mitchell’s […]


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