The government is in a muddle with its policy of “quantitative easing” – printing or creating money.
It wanted us to believe this was a policy of the “independent” Monetary Policy Committee. Hence they enacted the charade of the MPC writing to the Chancellor and the government responding. In a moment of inconsistency the Chancellor yesterday announced the policy on the media and sought to defend and explain it. Clearly he is in full knowledge of it and has given it his blessing. It therefore becomes his policy, whatever the truth about who first thought it should be adopted from within the MPC and the government. He dropped the old pretence that these are matters under independent control which we leave to the Bank and do not comment on.
I am glad he did seek to explain it and defend it. It is a big step to take and one which the senior elected official needs to be happy with and needs to defend. Why then did my colleagues get a brush off in the Commons when they rightly asked for a government debate? Have we now got to such an undemocratic pass in this country that a government creating or printing the large sum of £75 billion does not have to announce it first to the Commons in a statement and then allow a debate? Shouldn’t a democratic government want to explain it to those paid by the taxpayer to approve or criticise these decisions? Once again I am driven to the world of the web to make my points.
Every Thursday the government holds a so called “topical debate” without a vote to require most MPs to be present . If they chose genuinely topical matters that could be a good thing. Instead they usually choose the government’s spin topic of the week. They do not let the Opposition ever choose their preferred topic. Yesterday should have been a debate on the economy and money. Of course it wasn’t. The Opposition asked me to speak in a full day Economy debate to be scheduled in Opposition time next Tuesday . I willingly said I would. Subsequently I was told the Chancellor was not available to take part, so the debate has had to be postponed.
So, like the rest of you, my opportunity to understand the government’s approach to all this was confined to watching Miss Cooper ( alias Mrs Balls) on Newsnight. She may have gone home thinking she had triumphed. She had put across the government’s highly political spin line. They say that the crisis is global, that they made no mistakes, that Gordon Brown is leading the world out of the crisis, that the Conservatives want to do nothing, and the Conservatives have opposed the very measures they are taking which will alleviate and then solve the problem. One of their dwindling number of supporters has put this all eloquently in a recent posting on this site.
If she did think this I fear she is much mistaken. Their points about the Conservatives are simply untrue. The Conservatives have proposed various actions, and have not voted against government measures which they think might help.
What I think we wanted to hear from Miss Cooper was something different. We wanted a serious tone, an admission that mistakes have been made by this government in the conduct of monetary policy, fiscal policy and banking regulation, and a better explanation of what quantitative easing means and how it might make things better. I do not think most viewers will have warmed to Labour as a result of her partisan performance.
Some think quantitative easing will have little impact. On the first day of its formal announcement bond markets did not respond greatly, and sterling remained mercifully unmoved. The Japanese who tried this found in their circumstances it did not work. Nor did it trigger inflation.
Some think quantitative easing marks our adoption of a Weimar or Zimbabwean approach to monetary management, fearing that addiction to it could eventually trigger a major inflationary problem. Government should remember that on its chosen measure inflation is still at 3%, and there are still price increases a plenty to come though from last year’s big fall in the pound.
Some think this will prove to be the right sized stimulus that could help turn the corner.
Miss Cooper seems to belong to the try everything school. She did not claim last night this policy is the magic missing ingredient. She may be adopting a monetarist policy, designed by people she used to condemn regularly as part of her ideological mantra, but she has not been completely bowled over by their claims. She said it was just another measure in a long laundry list of initiatives. As the Opposition pointed out this week, several of last year’s initiatives still have not got beyond the press release and planning stage.
So what do I think of all this? I think the government should realise that doing everything is not necessarily the right answer. I think inflating the deficit massively, spending huge sums on subsidising very large banks, and undertaking monetary easing increases the risks substantially. The government is overflexing the national credit card and national financial credibility.
The main problem that is different this time round is the state of the banks. The government should concentrate on making the banks heal themselves, instead of shovelling obscene sums into them. They should await the results of lower interest rates. They should stop savaging savers at a time when savers are needed in a country which has collectively borrowed too much. If you are going to print some money, you need to have a prudent course for future public finances. The government has not merely divorced Prudence but is holding a drink and drugs party on her grave.