It seems that every BBC interviewee now has to answer the question 'how does that make you feel?', usually followed up by prompting them to seek redress or apology from someone. These interviews never elicit any useful information, but encourage us to wallow in others' joy or excitement or (all too often) their grief or distress. The intereviewer prompts people to respond with the expected cliches. Only very occasionally does the BBC broadcast the obvious response -'how the hell do you think I feel?', or 'why are you asking me, I am a victim but that doesn't make me an expert.' 
I am not sure when the BBC became so sloppy and so tabloid. It is especially annoying when the focus on emotions squeezes out interviews and analysis that might shed light on broader issues. I want the BBC to inform, educate, and entertain. Asking someone in grief how they feel does none of these things, it is simply lazy journalism. Our shared humanity makes such questions at best unnecessary, and at worst insensitive and intrusive. Please share if you agree and we might try to put a bit of pressure on the Beeb; I would also be interested in any comments if you disagree.

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

What is racist, and what is not? A contribution to the debate in the Labour Party

What does anti-semitism mean?


We would all agree that hatred or dislike based on something fundamental that individuals are unable to change is always unacceptable – whether it be skin colour or some form of disability or any other characteristic outside their control. None of the allegations about anti-Semitism in the labour party fall into this category.


The problem with religious discrimination is that it involves criticism not of what someone is, but of what they believe – and in the interests of free speech, we need to stress that the right to criticise the beliefs of others is legitimate and should be protected. The alleged cases of anti-Semitism do not take this form either.


We are instead dealing with Labour party members expressing views about the policy and conduct of the state of Israel, both within it’s own borders and, more particularly, within the territories that it has illegally occupied since 1967. We are all presumably in agreement that the policies and practices of the Government of Israel must be a legitimate field of debate within a national political party that has to articulate policy positions on all current international and national questions.


The accusation of anti-Semitism thus derives from the fact that Israel is the only majority jewish state, and that for many jews the state of Israel as a homeland for jewish people is a core component of their jewish identity. This dual identity inevitably leads to the potential for confusion when the behaviour of the state attracts criticism.


The issue then comes down to questions about how individual party members have chosen to prosecute the discussion. There is a spectrum:-

i. Open and civilised debate of the issues is presumably acceptable to all of us, using facts and analysis that are open to challenge.

ii. Deliberate lies and mis-representation are clearly not acceptable, though they are all too typical of the current level of political discourse in the UK. Where facts are contested of course it can be difficult to distinguish case i from case ii.

iii. Social intimidation of those holding different views should never be acceptable. We may dislike what others have to say, but should protect their right to say it.

iv.The more extreme ends of the spectrum of discrimination, involving physical assault or worse have not been alleged, although it could perhaps be argued that a discriminatory environment dangerously lowers the taboos and barriers that protect individuals from the risk of assault.


If we apply this framework to the three cases that have recently attracted most attention, they seem to fall into the category of legitimate discussion of the policies of the Israeli state.


In the case of Naz Shah, there are two separate facebook allegations, neither of them in my view straying outside the bounds of legitimate political debate.


The post which was the proximate cause of her resignation showed a picture of Israel superimposed over the United States, with the comment: “Problem solved and save you bank charges for the £3bn you transfer yearly.” In comments below, Shah said she would tweet Barack Obama and David Cameron with the suggestion and said it would “save them some pocket money”.

It is obvious that this was not intended as a serious political suggestion. It was a satirical comment on the close US-Israel relationship, and the financial support that enables Israel to continue to be militarily dominant in the region. Critics of Israel would argue that it is US financial support that has enabled Israel to ignore all pressure to negotiate a settlement. It is not necessary to agree with this view to accept that it is legitimate to hold it. The original post that Shah was re-tweeting did not come from some jew hating extremist site, but from Professor Norman Finkelstein. He is described in Wikipedia as “an American political scientist, activist, professor, and author. His primary fields of research are the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust, an interest motivated by the experiences of his parents who were Jewish Holocaust survivors.”


It may be a poor joke, but it is hardly anti-semitic, and nobody was harmed by her comments. Had it been a serious suggestion to forcibly transport the inhabitants of Israel to the US it would of course have been offensive, but it was clearly no such thing.


Other re-posts and comments by Naz Shah make the following points:-


  1. “The reality is that through its historical and current colonial project the Zionist apparatus in Tel Aviv and globally continues to enact policies and practices that are deeply inhumane, that are unequal and have created physical realities that have left the mantra of Tony Blair precisely what it was meant to be an ‘(un)viable two state solution’.”
  2. During the Gaza conflict, Ms Shah posted a link on Facebook to a newspaper poll asking whether Israel had committed war crimes. She wrote: “The Jews are rallying to the poll.” And then called on people to vote “yes”.

iii. Naz Shah claimed that no Israeli children had been killed by stone throwing Palestinians.


The first point is certainly well within the realms of legitimate political debate. There is widespread agreement in the academic literature that the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements has resulted in a reality on the ground that makes a two state solution now unviable.


The argument that Israel committed war crimes is also hardly controversial. During the Second Intifada, the UN Commission on Human Rights reported “widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights perpetrated by the Israeli occupying power, in particular mass killings and collective punishments, such as demolition of houses and closure of the Palestinian territories, measures which constitute war crimes, flagrant violations of international humanitarian law and crimes against humanity.”[138] In 2014 Amnesty released a report with similar findings, criticizing Israel for excessive and reckless use of force for which Israeli soldiers are not held accountable. Amnesty said characteristics of the violence suggested it was employed as a matter of policy, and that there was evidence some killings amounted to war crimes.[171]


The third point could be argued to be a case of mis-representation by Ms Shah, as there does appear to have been one such case. However, even if true, the critical point (as Ken Livingstone pointed out) is the enormous disparity in the body count with far more Palestinians killed than Israelis.


Were any of her tweets or comments anti-semitic?


I would say they are not. It was perhaps careless to refer to ‘the jews’ voting in support of Israel rather than more precisely suggesting that Israeli supporters were highly motivated to vote. However, all of the comments are concerned with the conduct of the Israeli state, and have nothing to do with personal hatred of jews. If anyone is guilty of deliberate mis-representation it is those who are making the accusations of anti-semitism.


The deliberate identification of an opposition to the Zionist project with anti-semitism is made explicit in comments by Joan Ryan, Labour Friends of Israel chair, who said: “This incident underlines yet again the need for the Labour Party to take urgent action to combat antisemitism and anti-Zionism in all its forms.” The two are however clearly quite different things. Zionism was a political movement to establish a homeland for the jewish people. It was a legitimate aim, but aspects of the way in which it was in practice carried out, with expulsions of Arabs without compensation or right of return, continue to be problematic, as does the continued expansion of illegal settlements.


The second case relates to Oxford University Labour Club. A decision by the club to support Israeli Apartheid Week, which seeks to highlight Israel’s “ongoing settler-colonial project and apartheid policies over the Palestinian people”, has angered some Labour MPs, who have called for the party to dissociate itself from OULC. Louise Ellman, vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said: “I am deeply disturbed by the news that Oxford University Labour Club has decided to support Israeli Apartheid Week and by the revelations from Alex Chalmers about the troubling tone of the discourse in which this debate appears to have been conducted.” She said comparisons between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa were “a grotesque smear and the Labour party should dissociate itself from them”.


The allegedly ‘grotesque smear’ has a prestigious pedigree.Israeli treatment of non-Israelis in territories occupied by Israel for nearly fifty years, has been compared to South Africa’s treatment of non-whites during the apartheid era by the Congress of South African Trade Unions,[148], by former US President Jimmy Carter,[149], by archbishop Desmond Tutu and by Michael Ben-Yair, attorney-general of Israel.[150] In 2009, South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council released a 300-page study that concluded that Israel practiced colonialism and apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.[151]The accusation of anti-semitism appears to be unfounded unless all of these prestigious individuals and bodies are also guilty of it.


The final case is that of Ken Livingstone. The most annoying thing about his intervention is that it kept a damaging debate going and escalated it at a time when efforts should have been focused on the coming elections. However, for what it is worth, he appears to be factually largely correct in what he says, and again it is difficult to see how his comments can be taken as evidence of anti-semitism. He said that Hitler initially wanted to expel the jews because he hated them and that his officials held discussions with the Zionists to that end. He did not suggest that the Zionists supported Hitler, nor did he suggest that Hitler was anything but repugnant in his attitude to the jews. His comments were in answer to a question, and were largely irrelevant to the debate on anti-semitism.


His other points were to draw attention to Israeli brutality towards Palestinians including the gross disparity in the body count, and the tendency of the pro-Israel lobby to label anyone criticising Israel as anti semitic. All of which is fair comment.


My conclusion is that there may have been some unguarded language used at times, but the cases that have received such publicity and had dire consequences for the individuals were of startling triviality and were not evidence of anti-semitism. They are explained perhaps by common cause among those wishing to damage Jeremy Corbyn, and those wishing to deflect all criticism of Israel.


The startling thing is that the ‘Labour Friends of Israel’ receive so little criticism for their support of a regime that has been repeatedly accused of war crimes and of imposing unacceptable levels of suffering on the inhabitants of the occupied territories. As a labour party member, I am hurt and offended by labour party members appearing to defend the indefensible, and bringing my party into disrepute by associating it with a regime that has a long history of oppressing the rights of the Palestinian people. That is the real issue. A little mild upset or irritation experienced by some party members because of strongly worded criticism of the conduct of a foreign power seems utterly trivial in comparison with the lethal and discriminatory behaviour by Israel that her critics seek to highlight.. The accusations of anti-Semitism seem to be contrived in my view to stifle a debate that needs to be brought into the open. There are indeed examples of unacceptable bullying within the labour party, but they are not coming from those now accused of anti-Semitism, but from those who are making the accusations to silence necessary debate.

Who is better at managing the UK economy, Labour or the Tories?

Economic Growth under Labour and under the Tories

Looking at the long term economic growth rate under both Tory and Labour Governments since 1950, there is no significant difference between them – it averages 2.6% p.a. during periods of Tory rule, 2.5% per annum under Labour[1].


Both parties performed poorly until the 1980s

Comparing the performance of the UK to France, the USA, and the average of high-income OECD countries, the UK economy performed poorly compared to our competitors under both Tory and Labour Governments until the end of the 1970s[2].


The conservatives under Thatcher initially presided over a deep recession that caused mass unemployment and extreme misery, but later years did see the UK outperform our competitors on economic growth. Over the 1979-97 period of Tory Government as a whole, however, the GDP increase of 52% under the conservatives was higher than France’s 44% but lagged a long way behind the 63% average of the OECD countries let alone the 70% increase in the USA.


The only post-war Government to achieve faster economic growth than the average of all rich countries is the labour Government of 1997-2010[3]. Under labour the economy grew by nearly 30%, whereas the high income countries as a group achieved growth of about 28%. From 1997-2008, Labour consistently achieved high GDP growth with low inflation. During the period, the cumulative increase in national output per head in the UK was greater in percentage terms than in either the US or France. The major and important difference from the Conservatives is that labour achieved this good performance while also distributing the benefits more equitably, achieving major reductions in poverty, especially child poverty.


The period of growth came to an end with the global financial crisis. During the global recession from 2008, the cumulative decline in national GDP in the UK was about 4.7% compared to an OECD average of about 3.5%, and about 3% in the US and France. The UK was hit harder because of the far greater relative importance of banking and finance in the UK economy. The recession was not caused by labour economic mismanagement.


What is less well recognised in the UK (though acknowledged in other countries) is that the UK performed a really significant role in brokering the necessary international action to save the world financial system from collapse[4]. It is ironic that labour ended up with a reputation for economic incompetence when most international observers would give the UK much of the credit for preventing the global recession being a whole lot worse.


Under the Tory led coalition since 2010, recovery in the UK was slow, and (unlike the US) the UK had still not recovered the pre-slump peak level of output per head by 2014. The IMF and other commentators have argued that unnecessarily severe austerity policies have damaged economic growth since 2010[5].France performed even more poorly during the recovery because of the problems of the Euro zone – the decision to keep us out of the Eurozone was another example of sound Labour economic judgement.

Economic Management

Growth is only one aspect of economic management. Another indicator of the skill in economic management is the control of inflation, with both parties accepting that a target of about 2% per annum is appropriate. Although direct responsibility is given to the Bank of England (a significant reform introduced by Labour), Government can make their task much more difficult if it fails to retain good control of its own spending.


Recent economic history suggests that Labour has performed better than the Conservatives.


Both Labour and Tory Governments struggled to control inflation in the 1970s in the face of multiple oil shocks abroad and industrial relations problems at home. Despite the severity of the recession that it induced through over-tight monetary policy in the early 1980s, the Thatcher Government still struggled with inflation rates above 5% as late as 1991.


Under Labour from 1997, the UK consistently enjoyed a benign combination of moderate inflation and economic growth. Only the global financial crisis brought this to an end. As argued elsewhere, this was not caused by labour, nor was the labour Government especially profligate in its spending decisions. It was appropriate to allow some expansion in the budget deficit to avoid a still deeper recession. The debt never approached unmanageable levels. The debt has been far higher than the current level of about 80% of GDP for much of our history, it is easily financed with current low global interest rates, and will come down in relative terms as economic growth is restored-  even without the planned deep cuts in public spending.

Did Labour ‘Tax and Spend’ Excessively?

Another frequent allegation is that Labour Governments tax and spend excessively. Judge for yourself:-

I. The labour Government of 1997-2010 generally spent less than the 38% of GDP level reached in the final years of the previous Conservative administration. There was a brief (and rapidly reversed) expenditure blip to 38.8% in 2005, but the eve of the global economic crisis saw the Government spending the same share of GDP as their predecessors. Tax revenue was a little higher, which could be argued to reflect a prudent policy of avoiding excessive deficit spending in good times.

2. During the global crisis, which required extra expenditure to avoid a deep recession, expenditure peaked in 2009 at 43.6% of GDP. This is higher than the average of the rich OECD countries, but is lower than France (47%) and comparable to Denmark (43%) Italy (42%) and the Netherlands (42%). Those who have suggested that Labour economic policies would lead to disaster might want to contemplate these figures – and the fact that high spending Denmark and the Netherlands score 3rd and 6th in the global rankings of the World Happiness Report.


The conclusion to draw from this analysis is that there is little difference between the two parties in terms of the quality of economic management. If anything, Labour has performed better since 1997, enjoying greater consistency with less ‘boom and bust.’


The big difference between the two parties is in how the fruits of economic growth have been distributed. That will be the subject of a future briefing note.

[1] Calculated by the author from Office of National Statistics GDP data.

[2] Based on World Bank World Development Indicators. Re-unification makes a comparison with Germany difficult.

[3] World Bank, world development indicators, analysis by the author

[4] For quotes and analysis see William Keegan, Saving the World”? Gordon Brown Reconsidered , October 2012, ISBN 978-1-907720-56-7

[5] For IMF quotes see,

The cuts

I am attaching a short piece on the cuts which I did partly to support the Labour Party campaign in Chelmsford – though the views and accuracy are my responsibility alone.

Public Spending Cuts: Not Needed, but Very Damaging


Osborne claims that the cuts are necessary for the future health of the economy.


This is not true. They are a choice made by an extreme Government intent on reducing the role of the State in providing essential services and a safety net for those who fall on hard times.


Some facts:-

No Need for Austerity


  1. Public debt at  about 80% of GDP is not high by historical standards (it was over 200% when the NHS was established, and over 100% for much of our history). If nothing more is done to reduce the deficit, the effects of economic growth and inflation mean that it will fall anyway as a share of a growing economy.


  1. Because interest rates are so low (and likely to remain so), the 2.5% of GDP annual cost of servicing the debt is trivial. The Thatcher and Major Governments spent more on debt interest in every year they were in power – but nobody then argued that public spending cuts were needed on the scale currently planned.


This is why most economists argue that there is no need for further cuts – and they support the case for maintaining spending. At 43% of GDP, public spending is comparable to the average level in the 1970s. It is slightly above the long term average of 40%, but that is to be expected in a period of sluggish growth when Government needs to maintain spending to boost the economy.

Low Tax and Low Spend means Private Affluence for some –Public Squalor for All


Osborne claims he is ‘repairing the roof while the sun shines.’ In fact, the sun is not shining on most of us, and this Government is not repairing anything much at all – as the state of our pot-holed roads and the strains on our health and education services will attest. Private affluence for the few is resting on public squalor for us all.


Our World Class NHS is Under Threat

We have public services to be proud of – but they are under threat. As recently as 2014, the Commonwealth Fund rated the UK health care system as the best in the world – based on the quality of care, efficiency, and low cost to patients. We achieve this by spending less than other countries -just 8.5% of our national income on health –compared to 11% in major European countries like France and Germany, and a staggering 16% in the US, which is consistently rated as having the worst health care system in the world.


These good results though are threatened by rising costs and an ageing population. If we want to keep our good services, we will need to spend a little more – but the extent of the increased spending required will be less if we maintain our efficient Government funded service free at the point of delivery. Outsourcing of services threatens this – bringing in private providers from the inefficient and expensive US system, and undermining the fundamental features of an NHS which is rightly valued in this country.


The Cuts in Mid Essex


We can see the results of inadequate public funding in our own home town. One important example is the Mid Essex NHS Trust – which runs Broomfield Hospital. The trust has one of the lowest levels of spending per head of population in the country. In 2012-13, it was £24 mn short of the level that Department of Health guidance says is the minimum necessary to provide a uniform level of service. This is over 4% of total expenditure – and the strains have probably increased since.


Given the grossly inadequate funding available, it is not surprising that Broomfield has been rated as requiring improvement in the latest Care Quality Commission report, with urgent and emergency services described as ‘inadequate’. Management and staff will get the blame – but the real culprit is a Government trying to maintain a world class health system on the cheap.



The very deep cuts now being enacted by this Government threaten fundamental aspects of our way of life as a caring society that wants and can afford a good standard of public services and amenities. Meanwhile this Government continues to fund Cameron’s vanity projects – preposterously expensive nuclear power from Hinckley Point, new high speed rail links based on questionable economic analysis while the roads are full of potholes, and a nuclear weapons system the purpose of which has yet to be explained other than a desire for Cameron to look more important at conferences.


We need to fight the cuts – before the deterioration to our fundamental public sector institutions becomes too extensive to be easily repaired by the next Labour Government.

Don’t Bomb Syria Protest, Whitehall, November 28th

Quite a good turn-out, Lindsey German claimed Whitehall was filled from end to end, not sure that was quite so but probably more than the last one. The most noticeable feature was the anger at Labour MPs trying to use the war to undermine Corbyn despite his overwhelming mandate from the party – my favourite banner reads ‘If your vote of conscience is a vote for war, then a claim to conscience you have no more.’ (Though I was also rather charmed by the slogan of the delegation from the English Collective of Prostitutes with a banner reading ‘Whores Against Wars’).

A succession of speakers ridiculed the arguments in favour of bombing in withering terms, pointing out the incoherence of Cameron’s case, poring scorn on the claim that there are 70,000 moderate fighters, and pointing out that there are multiple wars going on in Syria and we do not seem to be clear which one we are supporting. The role of Turkey (importing oil from ISIL sources) and Saudi Arabia (still providing some finance, and the source of the ideology through the export of extreme versions of wahabi Islam) came in for particular censure. The most effective speaker was Tariq Ali, though he didn’t do Corbyn any favours by saying he is the most left wing leader Labour has ever had – I dread to think what the press will do with that.

BBC Bias: Syria, Trident, and the UK Defiit, Today programme, 9th November

Syria As usual, the bellicose BBC gives time to a retired US general to make the case for us joining the bombing of Syria, but at least some of the holes in the argument were exposed. He admitted that bombing alone can’t do anything but needed to be accompanied by building up Syrian ground forces. The BBC did not challenge the general with the evidence that US efforts to build up secular resistance to ISIS have been a total failure. Very few of those trained by the US are still active, and the weapons have mostly ended up being used by the bits of the resistance that the US doesn’t support – i.e. those Shia rebels associated with Iran or with Hezbollah, or forces supporting Assad. Today also had a report from a BBC reporter in the field with forces that the US does support with airstrikes. It became clear that this force is dominated by Kurdish fighters: though nominally in alliance with some Christian and Islamic fighters the reporter said that the Kurds were not passing on any of the weapons they were being supplied with to non-Kurds, and relations between the groups were getting more difficult as they move out of areas with Kurdish population (only 10% of the population of Syria). So we are being invited to essentially support a Kurdish force with aspirations for Kurdish independence which have implications for the stability of Turkey and the whole region, and which has no prospect of success beyond the small part of the country where Kurds are the majority. Not a strong argument for us to participate.

Trident Today discussed Corbyn’s complaint that chief of defence staff had strayed into politics when he implied that Corbyn’s stated unwillingness to press the nuclear button would worry him if the Labour leader were in power. The BBC did briefly interview Kate Hudson of CND and included an extract of what Jeremy actually said, but as usual they of course gave most time to the views of a retired old military buffer – this time Admiral West, a former head of the defence staff. The surreal nature of any discussion of nuclear deterrence never ceases to amaze me.If others would press the button, who would they be trying to deter? Clearly not terrorists or ISIS, unless you are willing to countenance slaughtering far more innocents than combatants, in a way that would be counter-productive because the threat is ideologically based rather than territorial. Russia? There are some regional issues but no threat to our territorial integrity. There might be some niggles over violation of airspace but the existence of nuclear weapons just makes these solvable problems a lot more dangerous. There is no existential threat to the UK from Russia, they need the West and know they are too weak to challenge US hegemony, though it is politically useful for Putin to indulge himself in posturing. China? Too far away to threaten our territory or existence, they are an economic competitor and a useful counterweight to the US, but hardly a threat to us. Rogue states with a bomb or two? It is difficult to think of any reason why any of them would choose to attack us with nuclear weapons rather than their neighbours. The real reason for having Trident is as an enormous and ludicrous cod piece, trying to convince the rest of the world that our willy is larger than it actually is and thereby justifying our presence as a permanent member of the security council. Of course, the Trident cod piece isn’t really independent anyway, since it is impossible to think of circumstances where we would use it independently of the US, which makes our macho posturing even more absurd, the skinny little kid hiding behind the playground bully.

The Deficit The main news quoted Osborne’s exaggerated claims about the need for a surplus to deal with the deficit. As usual, BBC themselves gave no context – no stats on the size of the deficit or the debt relative to historic levels. Fortunately they did include a later interview with Paul Johnson of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, who pointed out that a public debt of 80% of GDP isn’t large by historical standards, and will probably fall as a percentage of GDP anyway if economic growth returns to historic levels. (Broadly speaking, a deficit of the current level of about 4% of GDP will add 4% to the national debt each year, but the nominal GDP should grow faster than this because long-term economic growth rate is over 2% per year and the inflation target is about 2%, so debt as a share of GDP should fall over time even without a surplus. This is not just theory but is what happened throughout most of the post war period, without us running a surplus). The point that was not made was that the chance of us returning to a faster rate of economic growth is being damaged by the cuts themselves. Johnson is himself something of a fiscal conservative, and the absence of any comment from the Labour opposition indicates the very narrow and rather right-wing fulcrum around which BBC seeks balance.

I watched a bit of Al Jazeera afterwards – great coverage of the Burma elections with lots of context and stats that were missing from BBC coverage, followed by a discussion of the pro-Israel lobby in the US with pro and anti commentators given time to make their points and the audience left to reach it’s own conclusions. This is an issue BBC seems to be too scared to even take on. What a contrast, and not to the BBC’s advantage.

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 from

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’.

Today Programme, 3rd of November

Relieved that the Select Committee criticism of the usefulness of bombing Syria seems to have made it unlikely that this will go forward, and a somewhat better informed discussion on Today.
Unfortunately, they then spoiled it with a very biased interview with Liam Byrne. John Humphries claimed he was behind a ‘fightback by Labour moderates’ against ‘Corbynomics’, but the interview made clear that he was actually trying to contribute constructively to a policy debate that Corbyn has called for, focused on how to reduce inequality. Humphries tried to portray Corbyn as supporting widespread public ownership – though in practice he has only called for public sector ownership in the power sector (where he is likely to get his wish in part – though it is the public sectors of France and China that will own our nuclear power stations!), and in the railway sector – a natural monopoly that many economists would argue should be in public ownership.
The other piece of nonsense was Humphries repeating the Canard that when the coalition came to power ‘there was no money left.’ This was a very poor joke by Byrne when he left the Treasury, the actual fiscal position in 2010 was worse than expected, but the mainstream economic view is that the subsequent austerity policies of the coalition Government went too far and resulted in the slowest economic recovery in our history. Humphries made the point that our recovery was the fastest in Europe – but not the point that Europe as a whole has done very badly compared with the US and the rest of the world precisely because the Eurozone has been forced to adopt the tight policies favoured by Chancellor Merkel, and remains mired in recession as a consequence. Another example of BBC not being well informed enough to ask intelligent questions, and just being content to try to batter politicians over the head.

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