(The below is just me: My "In the Black" co-authors, Graeme Cooke, Anthony Painter and Adam Lent, and the wonderful people at Policy Network who have agreed to publish our little paper, shouldn't be held responsible for any stupidities of mine!)
Rather frustratingly for my media profile, I've a really busy day at work on Friday, so will only be able to intermittently respond to what may be a torrent of abuse, a burst of applause or derisive raspberries following the much heralded appearance of "In the Black Labour".
I'm writing this on Thursday night, with no knowledge if we've got any coverage, or how it's been interpreted and spun or who it has pleased, angered, disappointed or enraged. Heck, no-one might have even noticed it's come out.
(In any case, here's a link to the full paper, so you can have a read.)
1. It's intended as the asking of a question, not the start of a faction.
We're deliberately calling "In the Black Labour" a discussion paper, because we think the issues we raise should be debated. So it's as short and as bold as we could make it, and as clear as we could write it.
What is not is detailed or authoritative. Anyone who points out we do not go into sufficient detail is quite right.
Anyone who points out we're just a bunch of quasi-wonks with no democratic or individual mandate is also quite right. This is especially true of me as I'm not even a proper wonk.
The only reason to listen to us is that we might be saying something interesting and insightful. If we are, then we'd like the Labour movement to talk about that . If we aren't, feel free to dismiss the paper, and me, entirely.
It's also not a faction fight. For myself, I just really want a debate with the left and the right about something I think is important. This isn't about Blair or Brown, or some inheritance thereof. It's about what the next Labour government does and how it wins. We're trying, to be constructive, not destructive.
(oh yes, and the name's lighthearted. We think the trend of linking every nascent political idea with a colour is so over. We're trying to stamp it out with self-mockery.)
2. The core argument is that there's nothing right wing about fiscal conservatism.
In it's most simplified form, all fiscal conservatism comes down to to is an acknowledgment that all state debts have to be paid eventually, and that therefore it is best to take a cautious, careful approach to the public finances. It's good, small-c conservatism we support, not big-C Osbornomics.
We say the left should be particularly passionate about this because fiscal crises kill left wing governments and leave the poorest and most vulnerable exposed to the likes of Cameron and Osborne – or at least they do if we don't appear to have a way to deal with them.
We also argue that it's entirely possible, even necessary, for long-term social justice to go hand in hand with a fiscally conservative, careful approach.
3. Fiscal Conservatism for the long term doesn't mean Fiscal stupidity in a crisis.
The government messed up because they got the short term economy wrong. We saw on Tuesday how we're all paying the price for that. In a demand crisis, you need to take action, and do so dramatically and boldly. To do otherwise isn't being fiscally conservative, it's just being stupid.
Equally, that classic Keynesian approach in a crisis requires a careful, cautious approach the rest of the time. This is for two reasons. First so that when a crisis does appear, you can access the scale of resources needed to deal with it properly. Second, so that after the immediate crisis passes, you can be confident the markets will lend to you, because they are confident you will repay.
So in our paper, we focus on ways a Labour government can show it would be cautious and careful over the medium term, so that it can act, as needed, in the short term. There are various rules and structural steps that can be taken. One such rule, which I quite like, which isn't in the paper, would involve an obligation, policed by the OBR, to run a current spending surplus in any year when growth is projected to be over 2%.
Other rules or structures may be more effective, or better constructed. I happily defer to those with greater expertise on this.
4. If there's nothing right wing about Fiscal Conservatism, that creates an opportunity for the left.
Left unsaid in our paper is an argument the left might consider. If our governing constraint is a need for medium term fiscal restraint to secure stability in state finances, and so the social agenda boils down to pursuing policies to deliver higher living standards within a framework of fiscal stability, then why not argue clearly for higher taxes?
It's not a position I support, personally, but rather than playing down the need for fiscal restraint, surely there's a debate the broader left can have which says, "Yes, we need Fiscal stability: We just need to tax more to deliver that and social justice". For me, that would result in a meaty, meaningful political debate, and one that would represent a real challenge to my political thinking..
5. The left needs an argument about the future more than one about the past or the present.
In a previous article, I talked about Labour's past. I felt the core lesson from our recent past was that Labour needed to develop a Social Democratic political offer in an era of no money. In essence my contribution to this paper was to argue we need to about sketch out what that offer might be, and why it matters.
Anthony, Adam and Graeme are all more economically savvy than I am, so any economic points should probably be addressed to them, but I think we've set out some ideas – a strengthened OBR, new fiscal rules, zero-budgeting, moving resources from services to productivity drivers and from current to capital, focus on higher private sector employment and wages, but there may be others, or things we've missed or glaring gaps.
So we welcome a row, rather than fear one. This is a discussion paper, after all. It's nothing without the discussion. One question that occurs to me as a politico, not an economist is this: The right of the Labour party has classically relied on electability as its trump card in internal political debates.
It's certainly not clear that the offer I set out is a electorally attractive one for a left of centre party to make. It's at the very least an open question. So do we on the Labour right have to forget thinking about electability for a while, and focus on what's right in policy terms? Do others, who might see in this electoral disaster and disenchantment of current Labour supporters, have a point- or not?