Academics to the rescue?

First meeting of Labour's panel of economic advisers

First meeting of Labour’s panel of economic advisers

Modern database communication means that you receive e-mails from a wide range of sources. On May 7th I heard from Jeremy Corbyn – who had always avoided any interaction with me when I was a member of his Labour Party Management Committee in the 1980s. In true North Korean style he wrote to assure me that ‘It is now clear that Thursday’s elections are showing the real progress that Labour has made since we set a new course last autumn.’ Oh dear.

Two days later I received an e-mail from John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor. Along with thousands of others he invited me to a ‘State of the Economy’ conference at Imperial College on 21st May. On his appointment McDonnell established an Economic Advisory Council, with some leading international economists on the letterhead – though it remains to be seen how many participate will actually participate. However, on the 21st, to quote ‘As well as Jeremy Corbyn and myself, speakers will include Ha-Joon Chang, Linda Yueh, Richard Murphy, Anastasia Nesvetailova, Jonathan Portes, Ann Pettifor, Paul Mason, Anneliese Dodds MEP and many more..’

I wish this initiative well. The Labour Party desperately needs new thinking on economic and industrial policy. It needs to develop a clear statement of how modern global capitalism can be organised to deliver growth without producing obscene levels of inequality, and how that growth can be harnessed to fund a well-managed welfare state.

A previous engagement prevents me from attending (it is very short notice) but I will be most interested to see what emerges.   I will also be interested to hear how the day itself progresses. Here I can offer some gloomy observations as a former Director of Management Education and Training. This event will be a nightmare to organise. First division academic gurus present well; those in lower divisions will prove to be poor presenters hiding behind their bullet point PowerPoint slides. Give them ten minutes and they’ll take thirty and rush through their material when told to finish.  There will be no concessions to the prior knowledge of the audience. It will prove impossible to run the event to the timetable. ‘We’re running a bit behind’ will be the constant refrain

What would really take us forward in our thinking would be a joint paper, based on a synthesis of individual perspectives and setting out an agreed position which Labour politicians can translate into an exciting new vision. Academics do not work like that – they are not team players. They will have achieved their status by writing papers in journals that nobody reads and have advanced through climbing a ladder in which they compete with each other. The best that John McDonnell could do would be to insist that every contributor produces 2000 words in response to the challenge set out in the third paragraph above. If these are made available on website it would carry the debate forward and something useful will have been achieved by the day.


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