Alan Johnson @ The RSA

My current period of unemployment has a number of benefits one of which is that it allows me to participate more fully in the intellectual and political life of the country, something which I really enjoy. Still small scale stuff but something I didn’t manage when I was working 60 hours a week.

So today I went to the RSA for 2 talks one by a politician and one by a journalist. The Journalist was Daniel Hind who was giving a talk about his book ‘The Return of the Public’ this was the second of the talks and I didn’t fully follow the argument however he was basically arguing that the media fails the public and in order to sort that out we need to take control of some of it (click the link for a better summary). Some of it went in though, especially that ‘opinion is cheap but research is expensive’ he also felt citizen journalism wasn’t the whole answer to the problems he highlighted. I am going to do some anyway to find out about the speech made by the first speaker.

The first talk of the day was by Alan Johnson the new Shadow Chancellor it went under the catchy title ‘Beyond Fiscal Fables and Greek Myths – the honest debate about our economic future’ don’t let this fool you though it was an impressive display. Johnson has an engaging style and kept away from powerpoint, he weaved a good story about what the coalition has got wrong and where he believes they are distorting the record of the last Labour Government.

He put forward the following as clear areas where the current Government is a least being disingenuous if not actually lying about why it is doing what it was doing:

  1. We have to cut quickly and deeply because of the debt left by Labour
  2. Debt which was brought about by a decade of reckless spending

Johnson believes that the Government are using these arguments, which they presents as facts, to allow them to achieve their ideological aim of a smaller state.  I have some sympathy with this argument and certainly  believe there are  alternatives which is the opposite to what George Osborne is telling us.  Johnson then explained why the Government are wrong about Labours record, below I have extracted some  key quotes:

In 2007/8 as the crisis hit, we had the second lowest debt level in the G7 reduced by 14% in the 10 years we’d been in office.

The year before the crisis hit we were borrowing 2.4% of GDP compared to the 3.4% we inherited from Ken Clarke.

UK spending on education as a proportion of GDP was 5.8% in 2007- almost identical to the OECD average of 5.7%.

The year after, spending on the NHS was 7.2% of GDP compared to 8.7% in Germany and 8.1% in France.

The answer to the question “was our expenditure on schools and hospitals excessive given the size of our economy” – has to be a very clear “no”. There was no binge.

So very straightforward then, Labour can be trusted with the economy and the current Government is lying to us. As a Labour member I could leave it there but…..

Thought I might do some of that expensive research, a quick trundle around the internet uncovers a rebuttal from the Spectator Johnson’s deceptions and out-of-date figures in which they cite references which back the claim about the G7 but argue that the Institute for Fiscal Studies report where this comes from shows this isn’t good enough. There are also some comparisons to OECD countries in 1997 and 2007. There is evidence that other Countries paid down debt, and especially structural debt, more than the UK in that decade.  However, we ended the decade of what Osborne called recklessness and debt with a lower structural deficit, as a % of GDP (The Public Finances 1997 to 2010) table 2.1, than Labour inherited.

So what did that research show? Well I think it showed the difference between data and information. Easy to find data and hard to turn it into information and even harder to turn it into meaningful analysis. But I am quite pleased to link the two talks again.

A bit more research led me to sources for the statements about education spending and health spending in comparison with other countries,

So what have I learnt from this.

The UK structural deficit was not lowered as much the majority of the OECD countries up to 2007. But Labour who are being branded as irresponsible and out of control brought the % down compared to the legacy from the Tories.

The current Government has stated that levels of spending were irresponsible, but it seems some of the key indicators show we were at or below OECD averages. Also if it was that irresponsible why are they sticking to the levels in Health spending?

Having been disappointed with Labour’s response to the CSR I was impressed with Alan Johnson’s performance and they way he has mastered his brief. If he carries on like this I am hopeful that he can be an effective opposition to Osborne and Alexander.

Finally I am beginning to support Daniel Hind’s ideas about public commissioning of journalism more because this is hard work……


2 Responses to “Alan Johnson @ The RSA”

  1. weggis Says:

    two in a week!

  2. papanomicron Says:

    I know that will do for a couple of years! I have something brewing in my mind about microgen think of anywhere that could go?

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