CSM continues to debate the issues that matter

CSM has continued to debate the economy and morality at the Labour Conference this week. Yesterday I spoke at Morals and Banking - is the feeling mutual? alongside Alun Michael and Rachael Reeves, with Michael Stephenson of the Cooperative Party in the chair. It was a stimulating debate - I'll post with a summary of my comments soon.

We continued the debate today with a seminar entitled Morality and the Markets with Stephen Timms MP, Jon Cruddas MP, and Joanne Green of CAFOD, with CSM Director Andy Flannagan in the chair. Jon Cruddas argued that CSM was hosting just the debates the Party needs to have this week. We've one final event this evening, Do we have enough faith in development?

Gordon Brown's speech yesterday went down well in the hall amongst delegates and there was a fairly good mood afterwards - the mood I would say is determined, with renewed enthusiasm to fight for the change we want to see in the country.

The last item of business on the floor today was an emergency resolution from the CWU calling for disclosure of the Royal Mail pension deficit. It was passed unanimously by delegates.

Stephen Beer, 30/09/2009

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Economy was the theme of Labour conference day two

The economy was the main subject of debate at Labour Conference today. We had a Q&A on the economy followed by debate and a speech from the Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.

Last year he was dealing with the fallout from the collapse of Lehman Brothers. This year, the backdrop was an economy that has been in recession but that would have been in depression had he not made some crucial decisions over the past 12 months.

His speech contrasted Labour's actions with the Conservative's record over the past year. They are calling for spending cuts now, before recovery has taken place. This shows that the Conservatives remain vulnerable on the economy. This is serious stuff, a matter of jobs and future prosperity. The economy is not simply a subject for opportunistic soundbites.

Peter Mandelson's speech this afternoon was well-received. The mood this Conference so far is serious minded but united.

CSM's fringe event on tax dodging and poverty was well-attended with 77 people at the meeting. Tomorrow evening I am speaking on Morals and Banking at another CSM event organised with the Cooperative Party.

Stephen Beer, 28/09/2009

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Labour church service kicks off conference

The official Labour Party church service was back to its usual time this year this morning. Once again it provided an opportunity for delegates so inclined to start the week off in perspective.

The Christian Socialist Movement, which runs these services for the Party, was able to help people focus on one of the key themes for this year's conference.

That theme is how we can ensure markets work within a proper set of values - moral values - and how amidst the fallout from the financial crisis and recession we can ensure the poor are not forgotten.

Tear Fund President Elaine Storkey addressed these issues in her sermon.

Labour delegates joined with regular chuchgoers in Gloucester Place Baptist Church. The Prime Minister read the lesson and a number of ministers and other MPs attended.

In Conference itself for me the debate to watch on Monday will be the Economy debate in the morning. Can the debates about bank bonuses and public spending cuts be developed; can we move on from the slogans into practical policy consistent with a clear political message?

Stephen Beer, 27/09/2009

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Labour conference Begins

It's day one of the Labour conference and a sunny day here in Brighton.

Pre conference receptions last night, including of course the London reception, were well-attended and I thought there was a good mood about them. The PM spoke well.

The Conference proper kicks off in an hour with Labour's Conference church service. The themes for CSM include morality and markets. The recession will provide the backdrop to conference this week.

Stephen Beer, 27/09/2009

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Spending cuts, debt and Vince Cable

Vince Cable writes an interesting piece in today's Evening Standard about the spending cuts debate, though he misses out one crucial element in the discussion.

Cable makes the good point, which is being forgotten, that:
Cutting public spending before we are safely out of recession risks pushing us back into recession. Equally, the apocalyptic cries of “national bankruptcy” are unhelpful scaremongering. In fact, general debt levels in relation to GDP are modest by ­historical and relative standards and borrowing costs are low — below two per cent in real terms.

He is right, and this is where the Tories' economic thinking is muddled and wrong.

However, nowhere in his article does Vince Cable mention the bond market. It is not the case that the UK will not be able to fund its debt, but I suspect the Treasury is worried that if markets believe borrowing is not under control (in some way), the cost of borrowing could rise.

What would have happened if the Budget had predicted borrowing this year and next as being, say, £185bn rather than £175bn? Probably not a lot different as long as there was a plan of some sort to reduce it. But I suspect Alistair Darling believed £175bn, which allowed for necessary stimulus measures, was about the right level. There is room for debate about how we go about balancing the budget by 2017/18 - eg which years have more reductions in spending.

Keynes was probably right that if you look after growth, the budget will ultimately look after itself. There are two ways to reduce a structural budget. One is to cut back aggressively; the other is to focus on building up the productive potential of the economy. The Budget, being in fact prudent, focused on the former. But we need to discuss measures to boost investment. Moreover, unemployment has not gone away and is still rising.

Stephen Beer, 21/09/2009

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