Mick Foster: economist, drummer, and would-be author

Thanks for visiting my site. I am an economist with more years of experience than I care to admit to, most of it in overseas development, though I have also worked as Chief Economist in the UK Home Office, and had a brief stint in the Cabinet Office. The site contains:-

i. My research and consultancy work on economic development – most of this is available on researchgate.net, but not everyone has access to that.

ii. Discussion of policy issues that interest me, trying to push back against the avalanche of lies and distortions that seem increasingly to taint our politics and our media coverage.

iii. Some of my fiction writing while I figure out how best to get it either published or self-published. Short stories under the heading ‘Lives in Development’ can be seen here https://mickfoster.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/lives-in-development.pdf

iv.  I will also have a theme for the various bands and music events I am involved in, with a few links to where our music can be heard.

Some thoughts on Black Lives Matter

I support the BLM campaign, but BAME lives seem to matter less when they are the lives of people living in poor countries – look at any news channel and compare the coverage given to relatively low impact disasters in the USA compared to events that kill thousands in Africa or Asia. Why aren’t more of us protesting about our complicity in selling arms and providing training to the murderous regime in Saudi Arabia to enable them to prosecute the humanitarian disaster that is the war in Yemen? Why do we tolerate the US and UK Government using drones to murder people we are not at war with, without legal process, and with reckless disregard for civilian casualties? Why do we vote for Governments that maintain our rich country privileges by increasingly draconian measures to keep refugees (many from wars that the US and UK initiated) outside our borders? We are right to protest against racism at home and abhor the abuses of the past, but we still buy cheap clothes produced in appalling conditions by workers paid a pittance. We cling to  our high consumption lifestyle, reducing greenhouse gas emissions just enough t save ourselves, but never contemplating cuts that are steep enough to allow the poorest nations to enjoy even a fraction of the wealth that we thoughtlessly squander. We don’t even question the ethics of COVID 19 measures that are causing a global recession that will cost millions of young lives across the planet in order to add a few years to the life spans of a few hundred thousand mostly old people in rich countries.

Those of us living in rich countries are all guilty of maintaining our comfortable life styles by taking a grossly unequal share of the world’s wealth while keeping the poor powerless and firmly outside the barbed wire. Now that the environmental limits to consumption are clear, we can no longer argue that the lifestyles we enjoy will eventually trickle down to everyone.  We may join the odd protest and try to consume ethically, but to the best of my knowledge,  no rich country has ever elected a Government that was seriously committed to reforming the current world order. It may make us feel good to overthrow the statues of those who committed vile crimes in the past, but our ‘woke’ feelings of moral superiority rest on very shaky foundations – our descendants may be just as keen to tear down any monuments we leave behind.

China and the world

I am involved in an on line debate about the post-COVID world. This is my first post in response to some comments by another participant about the need to confront and contain China:-

As a European, I feel very uncomfortable with Trump’s USA as the sole hegemon in the world, and see China as a useful and necessary countervailing power. There are many aspects of Chinese society that are deplorable, particularly the treatment of minority communities, but they have not threatened peace and security of foreign nations in anything like the continuous and aggressive way that the USA has since at least the end of WW2.

In economic policy too, it is the US which is basing it’s trade policy on an ignorant mercantilism that risks impoverishing us all. In contrast, the rapid growth of the Chinese economy pre-COVID 19 has been the major engine of continuing improvements in world GDP. Although aspects of the statist approach are uncongenial, dealing with threats such as global warming and CO|VID 19 will certainly require a bigger state role than we are accustomed to in the West, and we are more likely to find solutions in Chinese experience than in the capitalist economies that have yet to find any organisational models for harnessing private enterprise to pursue societal goals. On the contrary, the state has been suborned to create perpetual war to boost the profits of the arms industry, while privatised health suppliers and big pharma have produced the most expensive, unequal, and therefore ineffective health services in any developed country.

It seems to me that China isn’t really a threat to the West, though it is a competitor. China as a unified state has a history going back thousands of years, throughout which it has shown no interest in geographical expansion. It pursues what it perceives to be it’s own interests, as do we all, but has usually done so through peaceful means where that is feasible, particularly in the post-Mao era. The economic policies it pursues do pose some problems to those wishing to develop trade and investment relationships, but the way to resolve those differences is through the rules based international system that the USA seems so intent on tearing up. The US under Trump is a bigger threat to mutually beneficial economic relationships, relying on naked power to bully it’s partners in ways that impoverish both sides.

Throughout most of it’s history, the UN respected the useful principle of not interfering in the internal affairs of other states. That attracted criticism for not confronting gross human rights abuses committed by states against their own citizens. However, the terrible consequences of attempts at regime change in the Middle East and Latin America might lead us to conclude that non-interference was a wise policy -with exceptions perhaps in extreme cases such as the Rwanda genocide. Our current set of alliances make it clear that there is no moral or ethical principle governing which countries we befriend and which we characterise as terrorist states – I find the US use of non-judicial murder by drone, and the  actions of our allies in Yemen and the Gaza strip just as repugnant as anything that China or Iran are accused of.

This leads me to the view that we should try again to revive the use of rule-based systems to address international disputes, which is more likely to suggest cooperating with China to restrain the US through non-military action. We need to deal with the world as it is. By all means speak out against injustice wherever it occurs, and seek to promote and protect human rights by exposing abuses, but we need to accept that external actors rarely improve the situation by using lethal force. Trade, investment, diplomacy, and cultural and sporting exchange are the strongest weapons we have. An overly aggressive approach to China (or to other states perceived as problematic) is more likely to reinforce the position of those within those states who oppose cooperation. 

UK Approach to COVID 19: high costs for dubious benefit, while cheaper options are ignored

This post makes two points:-

  1. The current approach to the pandemic in the UK (and in most other countries) involves costs that are disproportionate to any benefits from deaths averted.  It fails the UK Government’s own criteria for cost effective health interventions by a wide margin. The extreme measures being taken have been introduced without any of the evidence that has been required before medical interventions can be used.
  2. Meanwhile, HMG has banned the use of what may be an effective treatment that is low cost and low risk, using drugs that have long been in use. The reason given is that we are awaiting the results of clinical trials – meanwhile people may be dying needlessly when the risk of approving the treatment now for general use seems to be minimal.

Costs of Social Distancing Measures versus Benefits

It is unclear what level of damage we are inflicting on our economy, but a conservative estimate would be that it probably exceeds 10% of our GDP- the Government has already committed more than that amount in grants and loan Guarantees, and there are additionally long term economic costs of lost businesses and lost growth.

We don’t actually know how many deaths might be averted as a result, because even countries like Germany have only tested a small share of the population, and hence the infection rate is unknown and so is the overall fatality rate. The death rate of confirmed cases in Germany is about 1.3%, the death rate of all those infected including those without symptoms who have not been tested is presumably much lower. If we assume in the UK that, left unchecked, the epidemic might infect 80% of the population with a mortality rate of 1%, then we would have about 480,000 excess deaths. Allowing for the deaths that will occur even with the measures, and for some excess deaths that will occur in a ‘do nothing’ scenario due to the capacity of the NHS being exceeded, we might guess that, at most, a social distancing strategy might reduce COVID 19 deaths by up to 500,000. The great majority of the deaths that are averted would be patients who are elderly and/or with other significant underlying health problems. Moreover, as yet we do not know how to exit from the virus without a resurgence. The reduction in mortality may just turn out to be a deferment that enables the NHS to flatten the peak in deaths, but does not prevent a second peak.

How much is it worth spending to achieve this reduction in mortality? Most people are uncomfortable with the idea of putting a price on a death averted, but it is essential to do so if we are to decide how big the health budget should be and how it should be prioritised.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) uses ‘Quality Adjusted Life Years’ (QALYs) when assessing the cost effectiveness of treatment. This is a measure of how many extra years of life a patient might expect to have with a health intervention, compared with what would have happened without the intervention. It adjusts for the quality of life, recognising that an extra year spent in pain or with serious disability is worth less to the patient than a year in good health.

The figure used by NICE for evaluating whether a treatment is cost effective or not is that it should cost not more than £20,000 per QALY saved, though it will consider the case for treatments costing up to £30,000 taking into account other factors. These figures are from NICE QUALY guidelines that were in use in 2017. I am not aware if they have been updated, but the numbers are unlikely to have changed significantly.(Source: Joy Ogden, QALYs and their role in NICE decision-making process, prescriber.co.uk, April 2017).

If we make what now seems a relatively conservative estimate that the social distancing measures will cost us 10% of national GDP, then the total cost would be £252 billion pounds. At the maximum acceptable cost per QALY saved of £30,000, then simple division will tell us that these measures would need to save 8.4 million disability adjusted life years if the cost per QALY saved is to be kept within the NICE ceiling. This means that, if a total of 500,000 people do not die of COVID 19, they would have to enjoy on average another 16 QALYs in good health for this level of costs to be worth incurring. It seems far more likely that an average patient who does not die from COVID 19   will enjoy only a relatively short extension to their life expectancy, certainly a lot less than 16 years. Moreover, any benefit to those who don’t die from COVID 19 needs to be offset by those who die from other causes related to increased poverty and hardship caused by the economic shutdown.

To summarise, even taking a high estimate of the deaths that might be prevented or delayed, and a low estimate of the economic damage we are incurring, the costs of the extreme measures being taken are not justifiable in terms of the Government’s own test of cost-effectiveness.

Treatment with Hydroxychloroquine

I am not medically qualified, but I am struck that public health scientists have been happy to encourage ruinously costly measures that will do severe and permanent damage to our economy, way of life, and health based on no clear evidence of their effectiveness, whereas the approach to medical intervention has been extremely cautious.

There is some evidence that hydroxychloroquine given early enough can prevent the progression of the illness to the point where it causes severe breathing difficulties. It is a cheap drug, has been in use for decades to treat malaria and a range of other conditions, and has few and manageable side effects when used for a short period of time. The evidence so far is limited to promising results in the laboratory, and two small clinical studies that have been criticised. However, given the lack of alternative treatments, it is not clear to me that anything will be lost by making it available. Malaysia has been using it from the start; Italy has started to use it in Rome and the wider region of Lazio, and is already reporting some promising results. At the ICU in Marseilles, it has been reported that over 1500 patients have been treated, with only one death, a staggeringly low fatality rate. (Sources, for a variety of materials on this see COVEXIT- Towards Hydroxychloroquine and other treatments, public group on Facebook.)  

The UK Government has prohibited health professionals from using hydroxychloroquine to treat the disease except in clinical trials (gov.uk/government/news/chloroquine-and-hydroxychloroquine-not-licensed-for-coronavirus-covid-19-treatment, published 25 March 2020,accessedn30 March). In normal times, that would be a reasonable response, but we are in an emergency situation. When the epidemic is killing patients at an accelerating rate, hospitals are being overwhelmed, and we have no alternative treatment to offer that can prevent the progression of the disease to the second stage where breathing is impeded, it seems reasonable to try a treatment that is cheap, has few significant side effects, and has some promising if incomplete evidence of being effective.

There may be some good reasons for caution that I don’t understand, but it does seem that different levels of proof are being required for drug treatments compared to drastic economic measures.. We should obviously be undertaking urgent clinical trials, but in the current emergency it is not evident to me why we should not meanwhile authorise the use of the drug, as an increasing number of health administrations have already begun to do.  The worst that will happen from using it now on a large scale is that it might not work, or might not work as well as we hope, but there seems little reason to believe that it will make matters worse.

Consequences of the Coronavirus Pandemic

The negative impact of the measures being taken to control the Corona virus look likely to be very severe, and will themselves have profound consequences for public health. While all reasonable measures to save lives should be taken, there is a point beyond which the costs may be judged to be worse than the effects of the virus itself.
The Health Impact of the Virus
Impact of doing nothing
The Government response is largely based on the findings of the Imperial College study . The mathematical modelling suggests that, in a ‘do nothing’ scenario, an estimated 81% of the population would become infected, there would be an additional 510,000 deaths, and the capacity of the health system would be overwhelmed. For comparison, total deaths in 2018 were 616,000 and the increase would represent an increase of more than 80% on the normally expected death toll.
Benefits of a mitigation strategy
The initial HMG strategy focused on mitigation measures: – isolation of suspected cases and home quarantine of those living in the same household, social distancing by the over 70s and others in the high-risk categories.
This approach would reduce the additional mortality to about 258,000, but the capacity of the health system would still be completely overwhelmed. Because the majority of the population would still contract the virus, immunity would build up relatively quickly, and the deaths would be concentrated over a matter of a few months.
The net increase in total mortality might be somewhat lower than this gross estimate to the extent that some of the very vulnerable population would have died in the current year of other causes if they had not contracted the virus, and the public health measures such as frequent hand washing will have a beneficial impact in reducing deaths from other infections.
Impact of measures to Suppress the virus
The unacceptably high death toll even with mitigation measures in place has led HMG to move to more drastic measures aimed at suppressing the virus. The additional measures encompass social distancing for the entire population (not just vulnerable groups) plus school and University closures. These measures have the potential to reduce the total number of deaths to a much lower level, estimates vary according to when the measures are triggered, but the total mortality in most scenarios is expected to be contained below 50,000 deaths.
The further reduction in mortality only occurs if the measures are kept in place until an effective vaccine can be made available. Universal social distancing means that herd immunity has not been built, and the modelling predicts that the epidemic will experience a second peak as soon as the measures are lifted. There may be some options for partially lifting restrictions in some areas, aided by expanded testing and isolation of contacts. However, for suppression to work, the Government assumption in an announcement made on 20th March is that the measures will need to stay in place for at least a year.
Economic Impact of Measures to Suppress the Virus
Reduction in output and incomes, and increase in firm failures
The economic consequences of the epidemic take the form of a severe interruption to the capacity of the global economy to supply goods and services. Some of this is directly the result of the epidemic with workers off sick, but most of it is the consequence of the unprecedented measures being taken to reduce travel and all kinds of social interaction.
Massive Government spending commitments
The reduction in social interaction has profound consequences for output, for incomes, and for the ability of firms of all sizes to survive. Governments around the world are therefore planning to massively increase their expenditure in order to limit the impact on household incomes and prevent the collapse of firms that suddenly find themselves without customers, or unable to produce without breaking the social distancing guidance.
In the UK, measures already announced include £30bn of support in the budget, a further £330bn of loan guarantees announced on 17th March, with further support promised. The loan guarantees alone are equivalent to 15% of GDP. With more to come and with GDP shrinking, the final percentage will be even higher, and is without precedent.
The dangers of ‘Stagflation’
We have become used to very low levels of inflation and of interest rates, but that is about to come to a dramatic end. Stagflation – the combination of a stagnant economy and high inflation – classically takes place when a reduction in supply is not matched by a reduction in demand, resulting in too much money chasing too few goods and services. We last saw it in the 1970s, when OPEC related interruptions to the supply of oil were accompanied by relatively loose monetary policy. What is about to happen globally will be on a rather larger scale.
If the Chinese precedent is any guide, Western economies may face supply reductions of up to 20% of GDP while increasing Government spending by an equivalent amount.
How will Governments finance this increased spending, when their tax revenues are eroded by declining GDP, while their existing spending programmes are already facing increased demands from the health sector, from benefit claims, and from rising costs due to supply interruptions? The Government will have to borrow more.
If it was concerned about inflation targets, the Bank of England would need to make room for the increased Government borrowing by tightening monetary policy in order to reduce the excess demand by squeezing out corporations and households from credit. This would completely defeat the object of the Government spending, by tightening the squeeze on households and firms rather than alleviating it.
If the Bank of England accommodates the excess demand, as it has said that it will, then inflation will be the inevitable result. This will have profound implications for the distribution of wealth and of income. Firms and workers who are able to increase their prices and wages will benefit. Those with less bargaining power will lose, including many of the poorest and most vulnerable.
The most worrying aspect of the situation is that inflation can easily spiral out of control. Government will find that the costs of everything it is trying to do continue to increase as excess demand enables firms and workers to increase their prices and wages. Excess demand will also spill over into an increased balance of payments deficit as Government spending not matched by demand sucks in imports. Loose monetary policy may keep interest rates low in sterling but the excess demand will contribute to pressures on the exchange rate which will further intensify the cost pressures by reducing the sterling value of our exports while raising the cost of imports.
We do not know how much of the money that Government has committed will result in extra spending, nor do we know how severe the impact on the economy will be. However, we can make some assumptions to give an indication of the possible scale of what lies ahead. It is not implausible to envisage that: –
– Additional COVID 19 spending adds £350bn to the Government deficit;
– Government revenue falls by about 10%, adding a further £80bn to the gap
– GDP falls by about 10%

This would result in a sharp increase in the Government deficit to £490bn, or about 24% of GDP, with Government debt increasing in a single year from 80% to over 100% of GDP. This level of deficit clearly could not be sustained for long.

The nightmare scenario would be hyperinflation, of the sort experienced by Germany in the 1920s and more recently by Zimbabwe. Hyperinflation destroys savings and causes untold misery as the currency becomes worthless. I am not saying that this is likely to happen, but it would be reassuring to know that policymakers are alert to the potential risks of such a massive increase in spending beyond our production capacity. I have seen nothing to suggest that they are.
The only way out of a process of accelerating inflation is to end the excess demand, either by the supply of goods and services increasing to close the gap, or by austerity measures to raise revenue and cut spending.
There will be a significant supply bounce back once the epidemic is defeated. We do not yet know when that will be, and it may not be enough. Despite the Government efforts to sustain demand, many firms will be financially a lot weaker, and will be poorly placed to invest in increased output, especially as consumption will also be depressed by the legacy of lost livelihoods and increased indebtedness. The Guardian on 19th March was already reporting that motor industry firms that have closed due to the Coronavirus may not re-open, the virus representing a major additional burden on companies that were already considering their position in the light of BREXIT.
A significant part of the adjustment will therefore need to take the form of harsh cuts in public spending and increases in taxation. That will be politically very difficult, and the risk is that Governments will instead resort to trying to inflate their way out of their difficulties. A prolonged period of recession or slow growth looks probable, possibly accompanied by high and unstable inflation..
Is the cure worse than the disease?
This discussion inevitably prompts the question, is the cure actually worse than the disease? The most severe economic costs are not the result of the disease itself, but of the measures being taken to suppress it.
It is worth contrasting the Coronavirus death toll with estimates of the health consequences of a prolonged recession and associated cuts in health spending. Two studies of the excess mortality experienced by the UK during the years of austerity have estimated the number of excess deaths . The study by UCL estimated an additional 120,000 deaths over the period 2010-2017; a study by IPPR estimated 130,000 preventable deaths over the same period compared to the pre-austerity trend.
Both studies are at pains to point out that causality cannot be proved. However, it is important to also recognise that the likely death toll from Coronavirus under alternative mitigation and suppression strategies is also highly uncertain.
It seems reasonable to assume that UK recovery from the severe recession and budget financing crisis associated with the measures taken to suppress the virus will be both slow and painful. There are ample examples of developing countries facing a decade or more of lost growth as they tried to stabilise their economies after debt and deficit problems of similar magnitude. It seems plausible to assume that such a prolonged period of economic difficulty will be associated with some increase in mortality, both as a consequence of increased poverty and economic distress, and as a result of constrained post-virus spending on health and social welfare.
The Coronavirus induced recession is likely to be deeper than that following the 2008 financial crisis, and is likely to be more prolonged given the scale of the shock to output, the already weaker state of many economies, and the fact that it is global.
The initial UK response of mitigation would have limited the economic damage caused by the virus. We have subsequently joined the rest of the world in taking severe measures to supress the virus, measures that will cause much deeper damage to our economy and the fabric of our society (will the village pubs we will lose ever come back?)
Nobody sane would argue against trying to reduce the health impact of the virus.
If the modelling is correct then we face the prospect of 250,000 additional deaths if we mitigate rather than perhaps 50,000 with measures to suppress the virus. The problem is that the costs of the additional measures now being taken to try to achieve this further reduction are staggering. The health benefits are likely to be offset by further deaths as a result of the prolonged period of austerity that will then be needed to stabilise the economy. The damage to every aspect of our way of life is incalculable.
We have never contemplated similar measures for any previous health emergency, yet have implemented them now with little or no discussion. There needs to be a debate on whether they are disproportionate to the uncertain benefits.

Labour offers a more credible policy mix -but BREXIT means neither party’s vision is achievable


The vision of the future offered by the Tories implies, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies :


I. Living standards in 2022 will be no higher than in the pre-financial crisis year of 2007, which means the Conservatives will have presided over the longest period of stagnating incomes since the Napoleonic wars.


ii. The poorest third of the population will actually be worse off than in 2007, due to the benefit cuts that have yet to take effect.


iii. Further misery will be caused by collapsing public services, as the Tories extend to 12 years the most severe squeeze on the NHS since it was founded in 1947


The Labour manifesto offers a less bleak outlook, with significantly higher borrowing to fund investment (something the IFS supports), and higher expenditure on public services funded by taxes on the better off. The Labour vision would imply a role for the state somewhat larger than at present, but in line with other high income countries in Europe.


The main IFS criticism is that Labour may need to extend some tax increases beyond the higher income groups that it says it will target, because IFS analysis suggests  that just hitting the very well off will not raise as much as claimed. That need not be a fundamental criticism:- it requires an adult debate when and if Labour are in Government concerning what can be afforded and what levels of taxation the electorate are willing to support in order to secure better services. It might also require some better targeting of expenditure promises – but at least an attempt has been made to cost the Labour manifesto, something that the Conservative manifesto does not do.


The bigger problem for both manifestos is that they may not be deliverable if the UK is simultaneously self-harming by proceeding with BREXIT. BREXIT will mean:


I. Economic growth is likely to be slower:


a. We are in for a prolonged period of uncertainty as to our future trading relationships not just within Europe but in the wider world. Decisions to invest will be delayed, some investments that might have come to the UK will go elsewhere to avoid the uncertainty, some activity will re-locate to the EU.


b. There is no evidence to suggest that there are offsetting benefits to growth as a result of looser regulation or lower taxation. Our growth rate within the EU has been comparable to that of Germany and the US and slightly higher than the average of high income countries – so there is no reason to believe that the EU has been holding us back. The fast growing countries are those like China who are still catching up with income levels in the rich countries, and no mature economy can expect to do as well.


ii. The budget situation will be even worse:


a. Any savings on our contributions to the EU will need to be offset by the cost of existing commitments, and the cost of expensively creating at national level equivalent institutions to those that currently provide needed services at European level (or paying for continued use of EU institutional arrangements). The amount of unnecessary or wasteful expenditure that we pay for is likely to turn out to be a relatively small share of our contribution, outweighed by the higher overheads and duplication of creating UK equivalents from scratch after 50 years without them.


b. If we succeed in reducing migration, which seems to be a major demand by those who supported BREXIT, there will be an immediate impact on the budget through the loss of tax revenues the migrants would have paid,  the increased cost of training and recruiting national staff to do jobs nationals were previously unavailable or unwilling to do, and the cost of expensive and inefficient non-solutions like trying to recruit agency staff to cover the gaps.


c. The biggest impact of leaving the EU is likely to be felt initially in London and the South East. Those elsewhere in the country can be forgiven for shedding no tears for the wealthy city folk, but the impact on the budget is less easily dismissed, with London and the South East the only part of the country that raises more in taxes than it spends on services. If the impact on London turns out to be significant, as seems worryingly likely, then the effects of a reduced tax surplus will be felt in even less money for supporting public services and paying benefits in the regions.

Whichever party forms the next Government will face severe economic and social problems caused by the unprecedentedly long period of flat incomes and underfunded public services. It seems utterly bizarre that both parties are committed to making these serious problems disastrous by proceeding with a BREXIT that offers no benefits. We are ‘taking back control’ of the ship in order to steer it into the iceberg. Both parties are grossly irresponsible to continue to steer full speed ahead on the current course on the basis that a fairly small majority of the crew thought that it was a good idea almost a year ago.

‘Hamlet’s Bastard’

I am quite excited that my first novel is now out on Kindle, go to amazon.com./author/mickfoster to find out more.  I now need to sell enough of them to feel that I haven’t just wasted several months of my life. Apologies to friends, family and casual acquaintances that they are likely to be bombarded with my attempts to bully them into buying it, sharing it, reviewing it.  You may as well give in now – especially as it costs less than a pint.


On Dec 14th at 8 p.m., the Dave Warren Jazz Quartet are back at the Three Elms https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Three-Elms-Chignal-St-James/640784632746021?fref=tson .

We are also playing in a jazz festival on December 10th at the Morden Arms in Greenwich  https://www.facebook.com/morden.arms. We have an  hour slot at 3.30 and I am really pleased that a couple of old friends have promised to drop in to see our set. It should be a good day, with about a dozen bands playing from mid-day onwards, reflecting a variety of jazz styles.

You can here us at http://www.guitar-ukulele.co.uk/jazzquartet/     though we have evolved quite a lot since that recording was done. We still play some tunes from the great American Songbook, but mixed in with some Latin tunes and a lot of groove-driven material from the likes of Gabor Szabo, Roy Budd, Ernest Ranglin, Hugh Masekela and John Scofield.


Why so little BBC coverage of Yemen?

Listening to the Today programme on Radio 4, they found time for a long piece on Emojis, and continuing fact-free speculation about what might be happening to the child abuse enquiry, but nothing at all on Yemen the day after the debate in the Commons. The only explanation I can think of for the continuing neglect is that BBC news values have been corrupted by a desire not to upset the Saudis, the Americans, and our arms industry.

How Labour Can Win

How Labour Can Return to Power

There is a possible route back to power for Labour, based on three strong policy platforms:-


i. Remain in the EU

Be the party for the 48% who wish to remain in the EU, and for the many more who are coming to that view as the lies of the leave campaign and the shambles of the negotiation become increasingly obvious.

ii. Reduce Inequality

But also be the party for those who have been left behind by globalisation, many of whom voted Brexit because they had so little to lose. Labour was always the party of redistribution, taxing those who can afford it in order to help those who need support. We need to focus on the hardships faced by so many and tackle head on the inevitable Daily Mail critique that Labour wants to tax ‘hard working families’ to provide handouts to the workshy. The approach cant be just about taxation and benefits, it also concerns investment in infrastructure to support a more balanced distribution of economic growth, less biased towards the South East. But we also need to say explicitly that economic growth is not the only goal, we have to concern ourselves with how the benefits are shared.


iii. Invest in public services – including a commitment to adequately fund health and social care.

We spend far less on health than other richer countries including our European neighbours. Comparison with others suggests we already have the most cost effective health system in the world. Meeting rising demand effectively is only possible with more money, something we should be willing to pay for.


There are several good answers to the question ‘how do we pay for all this?’:-

Relax Austerity: As argued in a previous blog (’public expenditure cuts:not needed, but very damaging’, https://mickfoster.wordpress.com/) , there is no pressing case for further austerity, and a higher share of public expenditure in GDP is prudent in current circumstances where debt service remains low by historic standards, and is likely to remain so. Without making the further cuts proposed by the Tories, the debt will fall as a share of GDP simply through economic growth at historic rates, and there is also scope for higher taxes, ending our participation in a race to the bottom.

 Better In than Out: If we do not leave the EU, we will save ourselves considerable costs of adjustment and will benefit from rather higher economic growth. This theoretical result from modelling is already being confirmed by the plunge in the value of the pound at the prospect of a hard Brexit.

Stop Tory Vanity Projects: We could liberate some funds for worthwhile public expenditure by changing our priorities – scrap the dubious Hinkley and HS2 projects, and (ideally) the entirely pointless expenditure on Trident.


Can this bring Labour back together?

With the exception of the possibly contentious issue of Trident (though I have never understood why such lunacy has support in the party), I would imagine that a platform based on these three pillars could be attractive to most Labour MPs. There will need to be debate based on research to help forge evidence-based compromises on how far to push issues such as redistribution and a more expansionary fiscal policy. The prospect of a reasonable shot at forming a Government should focus minds.


What is the alternative?

I doubt if there is one in the short term. I suspect that there will be an opportunity for a no-confidence vote that might prompt a new general election at some stage in the run up to triggering Article 50. The only hope for Labour to be a relevant political actor in that process –or indeed in 2020 – is if it has something distinct and clear to say on the case for remaining in Europe. That is the only issue where there is a real possibility of attracting enough new voters to evict the Conservatives. When the Tory Government seem set on inflicting enormous and irreversible damage to our economy, our society, and our Union, there is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be the party of the sane alternative, attracting voters who would not perhaps normally vote Labour. We must seize that opportunity.