Archive for the 'Labour' Category


The Syria decision: Doubters make the best persuaders

Friday, November 27th, 2015


Donald Brind on Friday – from a Labour pespective

“‘Oh gosh, yes,’ said the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby when asked if the terror attacks in Paris had caused him to doubt God. They had, he said, put a ‘chink in his armour’ of faith. But he warned against a knee-jerk military response, saying: ‘Two injustices do not make justice … If we start randomly killing those who have not done wrong, that is not going to provide solutions.”

There are a significant number of doubters amongst Tory MPs about the wisdom of air strikes in Syria. Julian Lewis defence committee chairman reacted with incredulity when the Prime Minister’s put his case for military in the Commons.

“Air strikes alone will not be effective, they have to be in co-ordination with credible ground forces.” said Lewis. He disputed David Cameron’s assertion that such a credible force existed. “The suggestion there are 70,000 non-Islamist, moderate, credible ground forces, I have to say, is a revelation to me and I suspect most other MPs in this House.”

Former minister Peter Lilley challenged Cameron “to convince me that what you refer to as the Free Syrian Army actually exists rather than is a label we apply to a rag-bag group of clans and tribal forces with no coherent force.” And John Baron said: “Having just returned from the Middle East, regional powers and allies believe that in the absence of a realistic long-term strategy and proper local knowledge, we risk repeating the errors we made in Iraq, Afghanistan post-2006 and Libya.

He said key questions remain unanswered and without these answers, air strikes will only reinforce the west’s failure in the region generally at a time when already there are too many aircraft chasing too few targets.”

It’s the existence of these Tory doubters which means that Cameron – at the head of a nominally majority government – needs support from Labour MPs to get his way.

And the issue been slotted quickly into the ongoing narrative about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

One of the Corbyn’s problems, I believe, he is not a doubter. He is a conviction politician, which is central to his appeal. It is barely conceivable that he would ever vote for the kind of action being proposed.

The effect of that is that people wrestling with doubts are likely to discount what he says. They are more likely to be influenced by the shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, who had rejected air strikes because of the lack of a coherent strategy from the government, now says the case made by the Prime Minister is compelling.

For what it’s worth I am personally unconvinced. I share the misgivings of the Independent’s Steve Richards who says “Labour MPs who despair of Corbyn must think very carefully whether they have heard enough from the PM to justify air strikes.”

One thing I am sure of is that the campaign of pressure on MPs being organised by Momentum , the pressure group based on the Corbyn leadership campaign will be counterproductive. It will increase not diminish the number of Labour MPs who support David Cameron.

Once again – Jeremy Corbyn needs saving from his friends.

Donald Brind


Ex-LAB MP Nick Palmer says “Don’t underestimate the interest that MPs have in survival”

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015


How do modern political parties cope with change?

The current turbulence in Labour is part of a wider picture seen across the West. Simmering dissatisfaction with established parties and politicians is generating support for iconoclastic individuals and movements in nearly every country to an extent not seen for a long time. From Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump to Syriza, Podemos, UKIP, the AfD, the FN and numerous others, merely being not part of the familiar establishment attracts a wave of interest. In Britain, it’s not clear if Labour will settle in markedly different policy positions to its previous stance, and a bad-tempered European referendum with a Leave victory or narrow defeat could leave us talking in similar terms about the Conservatives.

As punters assess how likely these trends are to stay, there is a non-trivial general question. Leave aside whether these changes are good or bad. How can political parties legitimately change their political positioning?

Traditionally, in Britain, these things are leader-driven. A leader (Blair, Thatcher) says, “Things can’t go on like this, we need to change.” The party and the wider electorate may or may not go along with it, but if they succeed the membership generally either puts up with it or leaves. However, the democratisation of leadership elections (membership rather than MPs) increases the likelihood that restless members elect a leader with different views to most MPs – who by definition were selected when the party was whatever it was before.

At this point, honest disagreement can arise, separate from any rivalries or bitterness. Say you’re  a pro-Trident Labour MP but the party votes to scrap it, or a pro-EU Tory if the party has elected a Eurosceptic leader. It’s not that you hate the leader or the membership, but you find yourself in disagreement with it. What do you do?

One answer is “defy the party and vote the other way”. But if you do that across a wide range of issues, inevitably both members and electorate will be unsure what they’re voting for.

Another is “sigh wearily and go along with it”. But what if the issues are central to your beliefs?

A third is “defect to the other side”. But that’s like getting divorced and marrying someone you’ve been feuding with for years – it goes against the grain.

A fourth is “set up a new party”, but we’ve seen where that tends to lead with FPTP – oblivion, and the end of your working life.

Don’t underestimate the interest that MPs have in survival. The number of alternative Parliaments that they could join if they lose their seats is more or less zero. It’s no more dishonourable to think about that than it is in any other walk of life, and MPs will be influenced by polling as well as personal belief.

The members have a similar problem. Mad fanatics are a rarity: most members rather like their MPs (who they chose and voted for) and make plenty of allowance for honest differences of view. But ultimately there will come a point where they get tired of their representative constantly disagreeing with them. There isn’t an iron law – legal or moral – that says that the current parliamentary membership of any party has an absolute right to determine policy forever.

What parties have to try to do is discuss possible change with as little rancour as possible (which is difficult) and a clear sense of what is a fundamental expectation and what is merely a preference.

Both MPs and members need to be frank during this process – there isn’t anything dishonourable about saying politely, “If we change to policy X I shall feel I can no longer be your MP” or “If you don’t feel able to support X then I’m afraid we need to find someone who does.”. But out of common sense everyone needs to minimise the list of such policies. For example, I know lots of people who have definite views for or against fracking, but I’ve never met anyone who changed their party over it or talked of deselecting an MP who disagreed. I’m not sure that Trident is that decisive for most Labour people either, for all the rhetoric – a weapon system that nobody can imagine using is neither quite as valuable or quite as horrific as one might suppose. Similarly, many Tories have a definite view on Europe, but I’m not sure that many would really quit the party if it moved in the opposite direction.

Two conclusions. First, it’s important that the legitimacy of disagreement is accepted. Of course an MP selected in a different time may think differently to a group of new members: it doesn’t mean either is morally wrong, and all sides need to think hard before deciding that an issue is absolutely make or break for them. Second, the pressure of personal loyalty and continuing political careers will tend to dampen down apparently irretrievable differences. Journalists like to highlight the drama, but despite Trident and Europe and whatever else comes up, I suspect that the political landscape in 2020 will look less different than we might think, with few defections or deselections and no new parties. Politicians, generally, play the long game. In Britain, it’s often the only game in town.

Nick Palmer was MP for Broxtowe from 1997-2010


The diminishing options of the average Labour MP

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Resident Evil Zombies

Picture: Scene from Resident Evil, this might be how the typical Labour MP is now feeling because of Corbynmania.

The typical Labour MP started off unenthused with Jeremy Corbyn as their new leader in September.  He commanded little respect among his parliamentary colleagues and he only crept onto the ballot paper for the leadership election with loaned votes.  It is fair to say that nothing that has happened since has improved the view of the average Labour MP of their new leader.

The leadership have taken control of the NEC and are pushing for rule changes to cement the left’s control over the party in the long term, seeking to marginalise MPs and the shadow cabinet as much as possible by making the membership’s wishes paramount.  Jeremy Corbyn is seeking to damp down resistance in the shadow cabinet by going over their heads.  By declaring that he would never use nuclear weapons he short-circuited the debate that he himself had opened up on the future of Trident.  To make doubly sure, he has given the multilateralist shadow defence secretary a unilateralist minder.  Deselections have been disavowed but with a boundary review and a proposed seat reduction, the leadership may well be able to sit back and let nature take its course.

Perhaps most worrying of all to the average Labour MP, Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t seem to be very good at the basics of being leader of the opposition.  The public notice, for example, when a politician doesn’t sing the national anthem.  Above all, they notice if a politician regards the question of lethal force as a hypothetical question three days after a major terrorist outrage.  The public have formed a firm view of him and it’s awful.  According to the latest YouGov poll, 52% of the public think that he’s doing badly (two months ago the figure was an already-awful 39%).  31% of the public, including 11% of Labour supporters, think that he’s doing very badly – up from 22% two months ago.  He’s electorally toxic.

MPs’ disquiet has broken the surface.  The Parliamentary party is live-tweeting its increasingly-bloody weekly meetings with its leader.  Labour MPs overtly sabotaged their own leader’s speech on the floor of the House of Commons on 17 November.  Surely it can’t go on like this?

It can and it almost certainly will.  The non-Corbynite MPs lack anything approaching a coherent alternative analysis, they lack a strategy and above all they lack support where it counts.  Until they address these three defects, they are destined to fume impotently.

Labour MPs are currently talking to each other, trying to work out their next moves.  The anti-Corbyn movement does not want for support in the parliamentary Labour party.  That is not where their problem lies.  Labour MPs seem to have forgotten their own party dynamics.  Thanks to the changes in the leadership election rules brought in under Ed Miliband, MPs play only a relatively minor part in the selection process.  Any MP who gets 15% of the parliamentary party to nominate him or her gets to put their case to the membership.

We have heard a lot about the Labour party rule book and whether Jeremy Corbyn would need nominations if he were challenged for the leadership.  More heat than light has been generated on the subject but few have stopped to ask the two important questions.  First, why has this question not come up before?  Secondly, in practice could the current leader really be excluded from the ballot paper by MPs, whatever the legal niceties? Every previous Labour leader has had a substantial support base in the parliamentary party.  The point has arisen now only because the MPs are so alienated from the party membership.

As yet there is not much evidence that Jeremy Corbyn has lost his support base there.  I looked at his ratings in the YouGov polls above.  In those polls he has exactly the same percentage approving of his performance today as he had when he was first elected.   The deterioration in his polling is entirely down to undecideds making up their mind unfavourably about him.  Those who liked him still like him.  If he is ousted without the 59% of Labour members and supporters who voted him in as their first preference in September getting their chance to say their piece, there will be hell to pay.

In reality, any attempt to fix the ballot paper would lead to even greater party upheaval.  It probably isn’t attainable anyway, given that the support of only 35 MPs is required to get on the ballot paper even if the leader doesn’t have the automatic right to stand again.  The Thirty Years War started when two noblemen were defenestrated but survived to fight again after landing in a dungheap.  Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have their soft landing lined up in case of emergency.  Labour cannot afford a thirty years war.

To oust Jeremy Corbyn, Labour rightwingers need to win over his powerbase: the party membership.  Astonishingly, no senior rightwing Labour figure has so far even attempted to address the membership rather than the parliamentary party.  It’s as though they are playing at 18th century politics in an era of mass democracy.

Whatever his numerous faults, Jeremy Corbyn put a prospectus to the membership and reaped the reward.  We know what the Labour right is against but we have no idea what it is for.  Until it comes up with its own convincing manifesto, the parliamentary party will plot noisily but impotently.

Alastair Meeks


Leader of the Opposition is the toughest job in British politics. If Jeremy didn’t know it before, he knows it now.

Friday, November 20th, 2015


From a LAB perspective: Donald Brind’s weekly column

The Bishop of Chichester George Bell was celebrated in a BBC Radio Great Lives programme a couple of years ago for a wartime speech in the House of Lords condemning the bombing of German civilians. Bell was no pacifist but he argued that “ to justify methods inhumane in themselves by arguments of expediency smacks of the Nazi philosophy that Might is Right.” The speech was made in February 1944, months before Allied boots landed on the ground in Normandy. Bomber command were taking the fight to the Nazis.

On the Great Lives programme the advocate for Bell was Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens who described the bishop’s speech “one of the clearest, most coherent and measured statements ever made about the war”. It was no surprise, therefore, that Hitchens produced one of the stand out pieces of commentary in the wake of the Paris terror attacks. ” Really want to beat terror?,” he asked. “Then calm down and THINK – Could we please skip the empty bravado?” He said. “This is a time for grief above all else, and a time to refrain from sound bites and posturing . France is stricken, and we should weep with her.”

He questioned whether four decades of vast spending used to spy on and fight terrorists had made us any safer. “It is remarkably hard to defend yourself against an enemy whose language few of us speak, yet who speaks ours and can move freely in our world, and who is willing, even happy, to die at our hands – or his own – if he can kill us first.”

Hitchens also challenged the “dubious and dangerous use of pilotless drones to conduct summary executions of our enemies. Few can be sorry at the death of Mohammed Emwazi (the so-called ‘Jihadi John’), but what precedents are we setting? For the moment, our fanatical foes do not have drones of their own. One day, they will.” So here in a right wing paper that we Lefties love to hate was a tract which chimed with the attitudes and feelings of the party’s peace loving leader.

But being Leader of the Opposition is a far tougher job than being a bishop and or a newspaper columnist. It is arguably the “Toughest Job in Politics” – the title of a 2008 BBC programme by Julia Hartley-Brewer which examined the travails of one David Cameron.

It’s true too that times of crisis, if handled well, are likely to produce a political bonus for the government of the day. The Falkland factor certainly contributed to the cult of Thatcher. Whether the invasion of Iraq produced a “Baghdad Bounce” for Tony Blair, I can’t recall but it was certainly talked about. If it did happen the effect dissipated long ago.

Times of perceived danger face any leader of the Opposition with a challenge — to capture the public mood; to offer a mixture of reassurance along with a willingness to confront difficult questions. For Jeremy Corbyn the test was always going to be tougher still. Even if he had been pitch perfect he could expect the likes of Simon Danczuk, John Mann or Mike Gapes to spot some bum notes.

In the event his performance was far from perfect. His interview with Laura Kuenssberg , in which he spoke against police being able to shoot to kill, was, to put it kindly, inept. . From thereon, people were scrambling to put distance between themselves and their leader. Among them was the Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn who told the Today programme “I can’t speak for Jeremy”. The mood was captured by a wide angle shot of the Commons with Corbyn flanked by just a couple front benchers, one of them Diane Abbott.

Then along came Ken. A bad idea, Livingstone’s appointment to the party’s defence review, was badly handled. And the man himself doubled up on the disaster by insulting, then making an unconvincing apology to, front bencher Kevan Jones.

What makes it all so depressing for the majority of Labour MPs — who are moderate, loyal to the party and keen to make the best of a bad situation — is that they see around them hardworking shadow ministers taking the fight to the Tory Government. And winning arguments, notably, over the cut in tax credits and police numbers, on the crisis in the NHS underlined how the threatened strike by junior doctors and on the short-sighted policies on renewable energy.

A couple of other positives are the success for the Labour Movement for Europe in lining up Jeremy Corbyn, his whole Shadow Cabinet and 214 MPs behind the Remain campaign and another defeat on the government in the House of Lords – this time over votes for 16 and 17 year olds in the EU referendum.

But with a huge black cloud hanging over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party you need a powerful telescope to spot the silver linings.

Donald Brind


The “Next PM” betting would be shaken up if David Miliband indicated that he’d like to return as an MP

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

He’d be Hillary’s choice as PM

This morning’s disparity on terror related issues between the shadow foreign secretary, Hillary Benn, and Mr Corbyn highlights a problem for LAB that is not going to go away. The leader holds views that are way out of kilter with many of his party’s MPs not just his choice as shadow foreign secretary.

A problem, of course, is that when the media senses blood it’ll go on looking for splits. Other shadow ministers will be pursued and efforts made to highlight other divisions. And as we all know the public looks to political parties for a unified vision.

    Split parties tend to get hammered in elections – just ask John Major about the 1992-1997 parliament.

Corbyn’s great strengths are the size of his vote in September’s leadership election and the fact that there’s no obvious leader in waiting that MPs could get behind.

But what if David Miliband, and this is mere speculation on my part, appeared on the scene again? You can imagine a passing comment like “not ruling out a return to the Commons at some stage” being interpreted as a leadership bid.

You can see a narrative developing. In these troubled times the country needs an opposition leader with David Miliband’s experience and background. This would particularly be the case if Hillary Clinton does go onto to win next year’s White House Race. One thing that came out of her release of emails were messages indicating how close she is to the older Miliband brother.

Mike Smithson


Donald Brind wonders whether Mr. Corbyn really wants to be PM

Friday, November 13th, 2015


An opposition leader’s primary objective should be Number 10

I was rather excited by the recent launch of BBC Store which opens up, for sale and download, a treasure trove programmes dating back to the fifties. My first foray was, however, unsuccessful. I got the message  “Unfortunately, your search didn’t return any results. The title may not be on BBC Store yet. However, we are adding more programmes every day, so please check back soon.” I certainly will.

What I was looking for was The Boys from the Blackstuff, Alan Bleasdale’s brilliant account of the hunt for work on Merseyside in the Thatcher era. I wanted to recommend to Jeremy Corbyn the line from Yosser Hughes, played by Bernard Hill: “Go on, I can do that. Gissa job?”.

When he looks across the despatch box in the Commons Corbyn would be justified in thinking that, for all his bluster, David Cameron isn’t very good at his day job. The sheer ignorance of the effects of his own government’s policies revealed by his row with the Ian Hudspeth Tory leader of Oxfordshire County Council was breathtaking. The county which includes Cameron’s Witney constituency has lost half its grant funding over the past five years. Many Labour councils have suffered far worse. Cuts are “counter productive” says the Prime Minister. You bet they are.

But when he looks in the mirror in the morning does Corbyn see a future Prime Minister? Does he actually want the job? Could he get it?

Yes, he could, says James Meadway, the Corbyn supporting chief economist at the New Economics Foundation.  He’s convinced there is another crash coming although he’s not sure when. Austerity, he says, is dragging down demand and “it’s private sector borrowing that is increasingly keeping the show on the road…. Throw in the productivity slump, a yawning current account deficit, and rumblings from Greece to China and you’re looking at crash in waiting. If the opposition is organised when it happens, it can win.”

For many of Corbyn’s detractors that’s a big “if”. And Meadway himself adds “Could win is a very long way from will win. The uncertainties are enormous.”But does Jeremy Corbyn believe Meadway? I stand to be corrected but I have never heard or read him laying claim to No 10. I have yet to hear him say anything like “I’m Jeremy Corbyn and I want to be Prime Minister — so I can make Britain a better place and help create a more peaceful world”.
It would, of course, horrify the majority of his front and back bench colleagues at Westminster if he did say it. They soldier on in the hope they will go into the 2020 election under a different leader.

But if he does want to be Prime Minister it would involve Corbyn changing his approach to leadership.

For instance, he would recognise that appointments to his private office are not a personal affair. They have an impact on the wider party. Take Andrew Fisher. I actually have a rather charitable view of the youthful political adviser, who has been suspended for allegedly supporting another candidate against Emily Benn in South Croydon in May.
Phrases like “we were all young once” and “there but for the grace of god” come to mind. In the late 60s we had a rather embarrassing Labour MP in my hometown Northampton. Sir Reginald Paget was best known for his support of the white settlers in what was then Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Who knows what trouble I might have got into if I’d had the temptations of a Twitter?

I don’t know if Fisher has ever stood for election but what he doesn’t seem to understand is that being a parliamentary candidate involves a huge commitment of time, emotion, energy and cash. I bumped into Emily Benn a few times during the General Election. She was taking time out from her own campaign in the safe Tory seat and doing what loyal party members do — helping out in the adjoining ultra marginal. And she would have shared in the disappointment of the narrow defeat in Croydon Central. There were plenty of other great abour candidates who suffered a similar fate in key marginals. Defeat was a bruising experience for them and their campaign teams.

The young Mr Fisher might not get that. His boss should.


Donald Brind


Frank “Houdini” Field leads the fight against MP deselection

Friday, October 30th, 2015


But Donald Brind wonders if this is a battle Labour should be having now?

Labour’s veteran maverick Frank Field has put himself in the vanguard of MPs getting ready to fight deselection. There could be no better leader for those fearful about the perceived threat from Corbynistas in their constituencies. In his 36 years as MP for Birkenhead he has survived three attempts to oust him.

The most serious was in 1989, a battle I covered for the BBC. We had ourselves an exclusive. We were pretty sure that Paul Davies, a Transport and General Workers’ Union shop steward representing low paid workers at Arrowe Park hospital was set to beat Field. But I had been told by a senior Labour official that Neil Kinnock had made it clear he wanted deselection blocked. That’s what we reported — and so it turned out. Davies won at the local meeting but his victory was overturned by the National Executive.

Jeremy Corbyn is no Neil Kinnock. He has rejected the idea of mandatory reselections but it is inconceivable he would intervene to overturn a decision by a local party. And the transformation of the Corbyn leadership campaign into Momentum , led by long term advocate of mandatory reselection, Jon Lansman has got a lot of Corbosceptic MPs worried. Frank “Houdini” Field told the New Statesman

“..If candidates are picked off they will stand as independent Labour, cause a by-election immediately and a whole pile of us will go down there to campaign for them. They can’t expel 60 of us. Momentum ought to know that they’re not the only pair of wide eyes in the business. We’re not powerless…

..Those of us who are not going to let Momentum win have a trump card on our side, which is that we would probably win the by-election.”

It sounds like a perfect example of the conjugation “we organise, they conspire”. Those who have spoken out like Field, Mike Gapes and Emma Reynolds are best seen as getting their retaliation in first. My guess is that their fears are exaggerated.

I believe Denis Healey’s judgement that an MP who works hard and is trusted as a human being “by active members of his local party can normally rely on personal loyalty to override differences on policy” still holds good. Healey is quoted in Andrew Adonis’s 1991 book Parliament Today which notes that even after the introduction of mandatory re-selection in 1981 only a handful of MPs were forced to step down. And anxious MPs should be largely reassured by the granular assessment of Momentum by the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush.

“In some parts of the country, there are undoubtedly organised leftwing factions attempting to infiltrate Labour. But, says Bush, “they are hugely outnumbered by new members with a much broader range of opinions.”

Richard Angell of Progress, another lobbying organisation within the party, takes a measured view of Momentum, suggesting it remove worries about its role by being more open and transparent.

My key point is that this is not a battle the party should be having now.

The raft of new selections cased by boundary revisions are unlikely before 2018. MPs who didn’t back Corbyn have plenty of time to earn the “personal loyalty” that Healey talked about. So too does George Osborne have time to recover. But his arrogance and tactical ineptitude have given Labour the opportunity to show it can be an effective force at Westminster.  The campaign against the cut in tax credits was spearheaded by Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allie, the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, a model of calm and reasonableness.

I particularly enjoyed three contributions to that victory . McDonald’s number two Seema Malhotra presented the case against the tax credit cut in the Commons last Thursday. She was subjected to a series of interruptions from Tory MPs but she had a handy put down — the exact number of their constituents who would be hit by the cut. Who, she asked, were they speaking for — their constituents or their party?
And in the Lords on Monday Baroness Hollis and Baroness Smith of Basildon the Labour leader in the upper house were simply magnificent.

Frank Field is set to play an influential role in the future of welfare policy as chair of the social security select committee. My hope is that he and others will shut up about deselection and concentrate on the day job of holding to account a Tory government that is weaker than it looks. That will be good for Jeremy Corbyn’s credibility as leader but also for their own reputations in their constituencies.

Donald Brind


North American pointers for John McDonnell’s growth strategy

Friday, October 23rd, 2015


Don Brind on Friday

The biopic of Steve Jobs had its premiere of at the London Film Festival last weekend. Just days before, the company he founded was in the dock in a New York court – and lost.

The jury found that Apple had infringed patents held by the University of Wisconsin by using technology developed by University researchers in their I phones and IPods. The university is claiming $400 million in damages which would be a record patent award to a university.

I was alerted to the case by a tweet from Professor Mariana Mazzucato author of the ground-breaking “The Entrepreneurial State” which shows how the success of Apple and other stars of Silicon Valley was based on innovations developed in the public sector.

I was in the Commons the following day and there in one of the coffee shops was the striking figure of Professor Mazzucato in a huddle with John McDonnell and his shadow Treasury team. She is a member of the economic advisory committee McDonnell announced in his speech at the Labour conference in Brighton and her ideas are likely to form a key part of McDonnell’s strategy for dealing with the deficit through economic growth.

Mazzucato’s argument can be summed up as “Do what the Americans do — not what they say they do.”

The Apple court case was grist to her mill. Her book explores how US federal government cash was used by universities and research institutes to develop technologies which are the foundation for the success of Apple products. She argues that the state can and should be an Entrepreneur developing technologies and shaping markets.

Another of her tweets takes us to the website of the American Energy Innovation Council and a clip of Microsoft’s Bill Gates  calling for basic research – paid for by governments – as the best way of getting a clean energy breakthrough. Mazzucato is out to bust the myth that innovation can be left to the private sector.

It’s part of a broader argument about the role of government in promoting growth. By contrast to Osborne and the Tories the Obama administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) which provided a near $800 billion stimulus package – equal to about 4% of America’s GDP. The story of how it was done is recounted in Michael Grunwald’s The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era.

The Obama programme was consciously modeled on the public works projects undertaken by President Franklin D Roosevelt. And a new biography of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump shows that the fortune he inherited from his father came massively from public contracts. Deborah Friedell’s book Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success reviewed in the London Review of Books suggests Trump may not be quite the brilliant business man he presents himself as. His estimated fortune is around $3-4 billion dollars. “The National Journal has worked out that if Trump had just put his father’s money in a mutual fund that tracked the S&P 500 and spent his career finger-painting, he’d have $8 billion.”

On the other side of the 49th parallel Canadians have elected a Prime Minister who argues for the kind of public investment which is at the heart of John McDonnell’s anti austerity drive.

“Every dollar we spend on public infrastructure grows our economy, creates jobs, and strengthens our cities and towns,” said new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

He routed the Tories despite the best efforts of Lynton Crosby which was the subject of my last post. One of my “good guys” won but I was disappointed with the outcome for the NDP.

I was disappointed too with John McDonnell’s clumsy U-turn over Gimmicky George Osborne’s fiscal charter. I had high hopes for the shadow chancellor based on his assured appearance on BBC Question Time, his conference speech and the quality of his team. As I said in a previous post he is the key figure in the Corbyn team.

The veteran commentator William Keegan took a charitable view (certainly more charitable than some Labour backbenchers)  McDonnell, said Keegan, “fell into Osborne’s trap. But the shadow chancellor is plainly aware of Denis Healey’s dictum: “When you are in a hole, don’t dig deeper.” Keegan’s point being is that it was his original support for the charter that was wrong not the decision to vote against it.
Looking back at the records of Tory Chancellors Anthony Barber, Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson Keegan says the “argument that the Conservatives have always been the party of economic and fiscal responsibility takes some swallowing ….. And now its obsession with balancing the budget – indeed, aiming for a surplus on both current and capital accounts – promises to make the austerity we have experienced so far look like a vicarage tea party. “
“The damage about to be wreaked by the reductions in tax credits may well prove to be Osborne’s poll tax moment. There is much for an opposition that gets its act together to oppose.

“These are early days to be writing off Mr McDonnell,” says Keegan. I agree.

Donald Brind