by Jonathan Todd
John McDonnell is bringing to mind the Gordon Brown of the 1992 parliament, while George Osborne is coming to appear the Brown of the 2005 parliament. Where Brown had neo-endogenous growth theory, McDonnell has an entrepreneurial state; both have public investment at their core. Where the later Brown had 10p tax, Osborne has tax credits; too clever by half missteps by Stalins transfiguring into Mr Beans.
“Business investment is falling,” McDonnell noted in a speech last month. “Exports are falling. The productivity gap between Britain and the rest of the G7 is the widest it has been for a generation. Without productivity growth, we cannot hope, over the long term, to improve living standards for most people.”
It is a powerful critique, grounded not in the overthrow of capitalism but in making it work more efficiently. Notwithstanding their divergent accents, you can close your eyes and imagine Brown, as shadow chancellor, castigating the Major government. Or more recently, Ed Balls attacking the Cameron administration.
The fiscal rule that McDonnell espoused in his speech might be interpreted as a crisper version of that which Balls took Labour into the last election with. The practical consequences of the McDonnell and Balls fiscal rules may be little different but McDonnell more explicitly backs capital spending.
“We believe,” McDonnell declared, “that governments should not need to borrow to fund their day-to-day spending.” This hawkish position on current spending contrasts with a more dovish approach to capital spending. “Alongside this, we recognise the need for investment which raises the growth rate of our economy by increasing productivity as well as stimulating demand in the short term.”