Peter Hoskin

The return of the signature parade

Oh dear, we’re back to letter-writing again. 52 academic sorts — including the Labour advisor Richard Grayson and Blue Labour proponent Stuart White — have a letter in today’s Observer urging George Osborne towards a ‘Plan B’ for the economy. They even sketch out, in less than 150 words, what that Plan B might look like. And, strangely enough, it has more than a tinge of Ed Miliband about it, including — and I quote — a green new deal; a focus on targeted industrial policy; the empowerment of workers; “unsqueezing” the incomes of the majority, and so on.

I say we’re back to letter-writing again, because it’s all so reminiscent of one of the most unedifying episodes in the fiscal debate so far, from before last year’s election. The Tories, you may recall, corralled 20 economists to write a letter in support of their deficit reduction plans at the time, to which Labour responded with 60 economists of their own. And all we learnt was that economists can — and do — disagree. I fear we may see a repeat now, only this time it would be the coalition responding with, one assumes, more than 52 academics of their own. There is a genuine case for the cuts and there is a genuine case for a more robust growth agenda, but this sort of tit-for-tat only serves to obscure them both.

One line does stand out, full beam, from today’s letter, though. The 52 advocate “raising taxes on those best able to pay.” Let’s put aside what that would actually mean for growth and tax revenues (clue: possibly not what the academics expect) for now, and think about the politics of the request.

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