Sorry for the blogging hiatus; I spent Thursday on a train up to Stoke-on-Trent and back with Ed Balls (who said political journalism wasn’t glamorous?): The results of the interview are here (Balls warns King on Bank credibility) and here (Remember voters’ aspirations, warns Balls).
One of the best lines that ended up on the cutting floor was the shadow chancellor denying that he was a bully:
“If I was five foot one people wouldn’t call me a bruiser, unfortunately in politics if you are male and a bit heavy, a broad frame, you always get a bit of that,” he says. “I’m the opposite of somebody who throws things around the room.”
In the meantime I’ve been struck by two comments about the economy, both by senior members of the cabinet, in the last two days.
The first is Ken Clarke in today’s FT, admitting that he is “very pessimistic” about the short term economic outlook – although naturally the justice secretary believes in the deficit reduction programme.
“I’m very pessimistic aobut the immediate outlook for the economy. I think we are going to be bouncing along for a bit…I am not expecting a quick bounce back.”
That looks like a deviation from the official script.
Incidentally, my colleagues write that Clarke is “in clover” and “loving it” in government: the gambling world takes a different view, with punters believing he may be the next cabinet minister to depart. Which Tory rightwingers would love, naturally.
And what to make of Vince Cable in Friday’s FT – in an opinion piece – admitting that government is in many respects a spectator, rather than a key participant, in private sector growth?
“Critics of the government calling for new growth strategies miss the point. Growth is not something concocted by the state, like a health potion at the chemist. Our job is important but modest: to create an environment for business to expand, invest and innovate……beyond this, growth must be driven by private investment.”
Vince is perhaps reflecting the reality of a Britain where deep cuts to public spending are taking place. In the absence of fresh financial giveaways for business – and with interest rates depoliticised - ministers’ levers are reduced to planning, training, long-term strategic vision and “cutting red tape” (which is easier to promise than to see through).
Yet the business minister is disingenuous to suggest that it is his only his external critics who are screaming out for new growth strategies. In reality his own colleagues across Whitehall, officials and ministers, have been straining every sinew for weeks to come up with such a plan.
It’s not Vince’s enemies in the Labour opposition calling for a growth strategy – it’s the chancellor and the prime minister, who said last month in a “speech on economic growth” that “Two: you’ve got to have a strategy for growth“. In fact David Cameron mentioned the word “growth” no fewer than 40 times during that speech and Q&A.
The urgent mission to discover the alchemy of growth has become particularly urgent since the dismal Q4 GDP figures; we revealed some of the ideas on the table (including land auctions and enterprise zones) in this blog in late January.