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.

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Some thoughts on why we need to vote Labour in coming local elections in Essex

The Essex County Council election is important to YOU if you:

 

Have elderly relatives in need of support to maintain their dignity and independence

 

Have children in State schools

 

Use the roads and highways that cross our county, and that the ECC is responsible for maintaining

 

Are concerned about the services available to support vulnerable children and adults

 

Use and enjoy the library services and the opportunities for further and adult education

 

All of these services are under threat.

 

In 2016-17:-

 

-The Tory Government is cutting the amount of money it provides to ECC by a third – some £50mn.

 

– But a bigger population and the cost of paying the National Living Wage mean it will cost the council an extra £40mn just to deliver the same services.

 

– Together, this means ECC needs an extra £90mn in 2016-17 just to stand still. It has increased Council Tax by 4% – the maximum it can increase it without calling a referendum – but this will bring in only an extra £22mn.

 

– The council plans to fill the remaining gap in 2016-17 by drawing down reserves to dangerously low levels (just 23 days of expenditure), and by continuing to cut overall expenditure despite the severe pressures from rising demand and increasing costs.

 

– On it’s own website, the Tory run Council admits it does not know how the increasing shortfall can be met after 2017-18.

 

This is happening across the country –indeed, relatively wealthy and fast-growing Essex is better off than most councils.

 

The Tory Government is not putting public finances on a sound footing – it is transferring the problems to local authorities and to health Service Trusts, and building up problems that are becoming increasingly apparent and will be expensive to solve.

 

What difference would a Labour Council make?

We will need a Labour Government to solve the underfunding of the services on which those of us who are not Eton educated millionaires depend.

 

But There are four key reasons to vote Labour in the ECC elections:-

 

To send a message to the Government that you are not happy to see money wasted on tax cuts for the rich while our roads are full of potholes and basic services on which we and our loved ones depend are in risk of collapse.

 

To elect a council that you can trust to prioritise the things that ordinary people want and value.

 

To fight back at local level against extreme Tory policies that undermine your public services, and for which they have no mandate – including the forced academisation of primary schools, and the creeping privatisation of almost every public service.

Vote against Private affluence for the few – but Public Squalor endured by all of us.

 Vote Labour

Publications on the Economics of Development

I had a long career as a developmen economist, first with DFID and then with the ODI, and finally as an independent consultant. With DFID, as head of Africa Economics Department, I did a lot of work on new approaches to development assistance, working with colleagues to develop more effective approaches to using aid to support sustainable poverty reduction and improved access to social services. This led on to me establishing the Centre for Aid and Public Expenditure (CAPE) within the ODI. I was the first head of CAPE, from 1999 to 2001, and I am proud that it continues to go from strength to strength. From 2002 until my eventual retirement in 2014 I worked as an independent consultant, but had the opportunity to combine practical consultancy work with some research. My focus in later years was on the problems of very high aid flows, and the difficulties of providing support in challenging policy and institutional environments.
I have pretty much retired now, and have no immediate plans to do more work in this area. The relevance of my work is clearly on a diminishing curve with time,but I do still get asked for copies of stuff I produced over the years. Most of my publications are available on Research Gate, but not necessarily well organised, and not everyone with an interest will necessarily find their way there. I thought it might be useful to provide this chronological listing of articles, book chapters, working papers, and consultancy reports. This is still work in progress. I will eventually aim to add links to where copies can be found, but that may take me a while. If you have trouble finding anything listed then please send me a request and I will do my best.

List of Publications
Mick Foster and Anthony Higgins, Programme Management Review for Australian Aid support to the Solomon Islands Health Sector, Options Paper, November 2013

Mick Foster, Anthony Higgins and Myra Harrison, Samoa Education Sector Policy Support Program, Report of First Sector Policy Support Design Mission, December 2011

Mick Foster, improving the provision of basic services for the poor:- linkages with broader public sector and Governance reform. AusAID, Office of Development Effectiveness.

Mick Foster, Rob Condon, Katja Janovsky and Chris Roche, Australian Aid to health Service Delivery in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu: Evaluation Report and country working papers, June 2009, AusAID, Office of Development Effectiveness

Foster, Mick. How to stop development aid from doing harm. Europe’s World, Autumn 2007.

Tony Killick and Mick Foster, The macroeconomics of doubling aid to Africa and the centrality of the supply side. Development Policy Review, March 2007.

Foster, Mick and Tony Killick, Economic management in Africa: what would be the effect of doubling aid? The Commonwealth Ministers Reference Book, 2007.

Foster, Mick and Killick,T (2006), What would doubling aid do for macroeconomic management in Africa: a synthesis paper (ODI Working paper 264, April 2006). Downloadable fromhttp://www.odi.org.uk/publications/working_papers/index.html

Foster, Mick. Fiscal Space and Sustainability: Towards a Solution for the health Sector. (Reproduced in WHO, World Bank (2006), High-level forum on the Millennium Development Goals, Selected papers 2003-2005).

Foster, Mick. MDG Oriented Sector and Poverty reduction Strategies (2005), Lessons from Experience in Health, HNP Discussion Paper, World Bank, October. (Reproduced in WHO, World Bank (2006), High-level forum on the Millennium Development Goals, Selected papers 2003-2005).

Fozzard, Adrian and Mick Foster (2004), Changing Approaches to Public Expenditure Management in Low-income Aid-dependent Countries. Chapter in “Fiscal Policy for Development, Poverty Reconstruction and Growth”. Edited by Tony Addison and Alan Roe, UNU-WIDER, May.

Foster, Mick (2003), A note on Criteria for Assessing the Case for Overseas Aid, Development Policy Review, May 2003. N/A

Foster, Mick, Adrian Fozzard, Felix Naschold and Tim Conway (2002), “How, when and why does poverty get budget priority? Poverty reduction strategy and public expenditure in five African countries. Synthesis Paper.” Overseas Development Institute, Working Paper 168. ISBN 0850035791.

Foster, Mick and Douglas Zormelo (2002), “How, when and why does poverty get budget priority? Poverty reduction strategy and public expenditure in Ghana”. Overseas Development Institute, Working Paper 164. ISBN 0850035902.

Foster, Mick and Peter Mijumbi (2002), “How, when and why does poverty get budget priority? Poverty reduction strategy and public expenditure in Uganda”. Overseas Development Institute, Working Paper 163. ISBN 0850035929.

Norton, Andy, Tim Conway and Mick Foster (2002), Social Protection: Defining the Field of Action and Policy, Development Policy Review, 2002, 20 (5):541-567, November.

Foster, Mick and Felix Naschold (2001), Government-Donor Partnerships in Support of Public Expenditure, Chapter in Making Development Work, Development learning in a World of Poverty and Wealth, World Bank Series on Evaluation and Development, Volume 4, ed. by Nagy Hanna and Robert Picciotto, Transaction Publishers. N/A

Foster, Mick and Jennifer Leavy (2001), “The Choice of Financial Aid Instruments”. Overseas development Institute Working Paper 158. ISBN 085003 5724.

Andy Norton and Mick Foster (2001) “The Potential of Using Sustainable Livelihood Approaches in Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers.” Overseas development Institute Working Paper 148. ISBN 085003 5287.

Norton, Andy Tim Conway and Mick Foster (2001) “Social Protection Concepts and Approaches: Implications for Policy and Practice in International Development”, ODI Working Paper 143.ISBN 085003 5139.

Foster, Mick and Sadie Mackintosh-Walker (2001), Sector Wide Programmes and Poverty reduction. ODI Working Paper 157, commissioned by Government of Finland for the like minded donor group. ISBN 085003 5716.

Brown, Adrienne, Mick Foster, Andy Norton and Felix Naschold (2001), “The Status of Sector Wide Approaches”. ODI Working Paper 142, commissioned by Ireland Aid for the like minded donor group. ISBN 085003 5074.

Foster, Mick (2000) “New Approaches to Development Co-operation: What can we learn from experience with implementing Sector Wide Approaches?” ODI Working Paper 140, commissioned for DFID White Paper, October. ISBN 085003 5023.

Foster, Mick, Adrian Fozzard (2000) “Aid and Public Expenditure: A Guide”. Commissioned by DFID for the economists guidance manual. ODI Working Paper 141. ISBN 085003 5031.

Foster, Mick, Adrienne Brown and Tim Conway (2000) “Sector-wide approaches for health development: a review of experience ” WHO, Geneva, June.

Foster, Mick and Felix Naschold (1999), ‘Pro-poor budgets and the role of development cooperation’, chapter of “Operationalising the Comprehensive Development Framework: Evidence from Contemporary Research” (ODI’s contribution to the World Bank Annual Review of Development Effectiveness), June.

• Foster, Mick (1999) ‘Lessons from Sector Wide Approaches in Health’, WHO: Geneva, March.

• Foster, Mick (1996), Improving Overseas Development Assistance: The Broad Sector Approach, May 1996, published with proceedings from May 1996 IMF seminar, ‘Deepening Structural Reforms in Africa’.

BBC: Belicose, Biased, Complacent – and far too dominant

A letter from David Elstein in the most recent London Review of Books quotes official Offcom data showing that the average adult UK citizen gets over 60% of their news from the BBC. This is a consequence of BBC dominance of TV and radio news, their strong (and free access) presence on line, and the steep decline of print news media. As Epstein points out, if any commercial organisation commanded a 60% share of news consumption, there would be a national outcry and calls for it to be broken up.

If the BBC was a genuinely impartial reporter of the news (assuming such a thing to be even possible) then perhaps this would not matter, but it is clear that the BBC has a very narrowly defined idea of the political spectrum within which it tries to be impartial – roughly extending from the current right-wing conservative Government to the Blairite right of the labour party. They seem complacently unaware of their own bias, happily referring to Jeremy Corbyn as ‘extreme’ and ‘left-wing’, but never applying the description ‘right wing’ or ‘extreme’ to the policies of the current Government -despite their stated determination to cut public spending to 35% of GDP, a level not seen since the birth of the welfare state. This abandonment of the postwar political consensus by the current Conservative Government is in my view far more extreme than anything proposed by the current labour leadership, which has espoused domestic policies that were mainstream before Mrs Thatcher ended the tradition of ‘one nation’ Toryism.

The shoddy and complacent nature of BBC journalism is illustrated by another article in the LRB. Patrick Cockburn gives a detailed account of the state of the war in Syria. He makes a number of key points:-

I. The only effective opposition to ISIS in Syria is from the Assad Government, Shia militias and their Iranian allies, and the Kurds. The only one of these groups with which the US feels able to work is the Kurds, but they are only 10% of the population and only effective in a small part of the country – and US support for the nationalist ambitions of the Kurds is not without risk given the implications for the stability of Turkey.

ii. There is no such thing as a moderate Sunni opposition, and efforts to create one have been wholly ineffective.

iii.With no ground forces to support outside the areas where the Kurds have been engaged, the US bombing campaign has been entirely ineffective as a response to ISIS – though it has caused enormous destruction and killed a lot of people. Some fifty analysts working for US central command protested about official distortions of what was happening on the battlefield, aimed at trying to present a more positive picture.

Cockburn comments that ‘Britain is wrestling with the prospect of joining the US-led air campaign, without noticing that it has already failed in it’s purpose.’ He says that some even in Washington are beginning to think that the Russian approach may have some merit, because the Syrian army remains the most effective force opposing ISIS.

Anyone relying entirely on the BBC for news and analysis of the Syrian conflict would have little notion of these complexities. BBC reporting that I have seen has been obsessed with the politics of whether or not the UK Government has the political will to join the US in bombing Syria, with little or no discussion of what such bombing would achieve. They have not taken on the mission to explain the messy regional politics of Sunni and Shia rivalry. They have been highly critical of Russian involvement and support for Assad, but have not been prepared to give any real attention to asking what alternatives might stand a chance of working.

This is one example of a BBC coverage of foreign affairs that is as narrow as their coverage of domestic politics, with news priorities and perspectives reflecting a US-centric view of the World. There are times when I almost wonder if the CIA have infiltrated the BBC as a more trusted and therefore more effective alternative to Voice of America. I suspect though that the explanation is just laziness and complacency. The BBC seems to have more journalists and more contacts in the US than elsewhere, which is why the list of usual suspects called on for ‘expert’ opinions seems to be dominated by American voices.

I have searched in vain for any balanced account of events in the Ukraine, in the Middle East, or in the South China sea. The perspective of those opposed to the US in these disputes is almost entirely lacking. It is dangerous that our dominant source of news shows little interest in understanding and explaining the perspectives of countries in dispute with the US, preferring instead the knee-jerk assumption that our US allies must be in the right. There is an alternative narrative that perceives the US as no less the aggressor than those with whom it is in dispute, and that perspective needs to be understood if we are not to stumble into further conflicts.

Perhaps the BBC was always this bad – though my memories suggest otherwise – but, even if it was, it matters a lot more now that they have become so dominant. I am not sure how to adjust it without risking a US style corporate dominance of news media, but it ought not to be beyond us to find a way to combine public interest broadcasting with deeper analysis, and a greater diversity of voices and views, than are reflected by the current monolithic BBC

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.