Labour’s elite team of economic advisers, which includes Nobel prize winner and rock star academic, to meet in run-up to Conservative autumn statement.
John McDonnell’s team of economic advisers is to meet for the first time as the shadow chancellor prepares his response to the autumn statement, increasingly confident that an intellectual and political tide can be turned against George Osborne’s call for an overall budget surplus by the end of the parliament.
McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn set up a team of high-profile leftwing advisers in part to give some depth to the new leadership and counter their relative inexperience. Although the group was announced in September, it has not yet met and some critics have suggested it will be little more than academic window dressing for long established anti-austerity politics.
McDonnell said: “I am proud today to convene the preliminary meeting of Labour’s economic advisory committee to advise us on the development and implementation of our economic strategy. We will draw on the unchallengeable expertise of some of the world’s leading economic thinkers.
“Every policy we propose and every economic instrument we consider for use will be rigorously examined before we introduce it in government. The foundations of our economic policy are prosperity and social justice endorsed by world leading economic thinkers.”
The economic team includes the Nobel prize-winning Joseph Stiglitz, and Thomas Piketty, the bestselling author of Capital in the 21st Century. But McDonnell may come to rely more on the British-based economists in the group: David Blanchflower, former member of the Bank of England monetary committee; Simon Wren Lewis, an Oxford University economist and author of the Mainly Macro blog; Ann Pettifor, former adviser to Ken Livingstone and defender of the Keynesian tradition; Anastasia Nesvetailova, an economics professor at City University; and Mariana Mazzucato, professor in the economics of innovation at the science policy research unit at the University of Sussex.
The meeting on Thursday is expected to agree a work programme, look ahead to the spending review and examine innovation. Managing to corral such a prestigious group of economists into one room, let alone one policy position, will be a formidable challenge. The group is due to meet quarterly with some members communicating via video link.
The spending review politically will primarily focus on how Osborne defuses the backbench opposition to his £4.4bn tax credit cuts, and the distribution of the cuts across Whitehall for the next four years. But Labour MPs will be wanting a strong performance from McDonnell.
He accepted that he had embarrassed himself by saying he would vote for the government fiscal charter before then reversing that stance, admitting he had tried and failed to outmanoeuvre Osborne with clever parliamentary tactics.
Although McDonnell is keen for advice on how to approach public sector borrowing and the budget surplus, he also knows he faces a tough political task in persuading the electorate that extra borrowing – even at a time of low interest rates – will not damage the economy in the long term.
McDonnell has said he wants to discuss the UK productivity problem; broadening the mandate of the Bank of England beyond inflation; and the role of the state in securing innovation, the specialism of the prolific Mazzucato.
Some of the ideas of Ed Balls, the previous shadow chancellor – such as a national infrastructure commission – have already been appropriated by Osborne, along with Ed Miliband’s chief frontbench industrial adviser Lord Adonis, who has resigned the Labour whip to act as the commission’s new chairman.
The group is also likely to discuss the role of cities in securing growth, a subject Labour took up under Miliband but then appeared to discard, leaving the ground free to be seized by Osborne with his “northern powerhouse”.
Stiglitz, who is due to play a bigger role in the group at a further meeting next week, is likely to offer advice on tackling the issue of inequality. In his latest book, likely to be influential with the Clinton Democrats, he argues the US lags behind most other developed countries in measures of inequality and economic mobility.
In an argument adopted by Miliband, Stiglitz contends: “For decades, wages have stagnated for the majority of workers while economic gains have disproportionately gone to the top one per cent. Education, housing, and health care – essential ingredients for individual success – are growing ever more expensive. Deeply rooted structural discrimination continues to hold down women and people of colour, and more than one fifth of all American children now live in poverty.”
McDonnell has argued that Labour presented an austerity-lite message in the 2015 election, and the party has to be clearer where it stands on the balance of tax rises, borrowing and the deficit.
The shadow chancellor questions poll findings that suggest Labour lost the election because it was not seen to be tough enough on the deficit. The party has yet to publish its internal review into the causes of the defeat that was commissioned by the former interim leader Harriet Harman and chaired by Margaret Beckett.
Guardian 12th November 2015