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Random thoughts from Stockholm


I've done my Stockholm gig. I guess it went OK, given that I'm suffering from man flu and I wasn't really sure what the audience wanted. I'm not sure whether it is a really high powered conference and it has been an honour to speak or whether it's just average and I've been a mug not to charge a fee. After a couple of glasses of wine at the Winter Palace I'm sure I'll decide it's the former.

From a long list there are two things in particular that tend to irritate me about my own speeches. The first is the level of generalisation. I guess I have a capacity to develop narratives and play with concepts but sometimes I wish someone in the audience would shout out 'this is great Matthew, but when were you thinking of returning to the planet earth?'.

The other thing I wish I could cut out is piousness. All my 'we need to be better citizens/politicians/managers stuff can start to sound so self righteous. In fact, many years ago when he was Chair of the Labour Party, Charles Clarke once used exactly this term to describe a speech I had made about the need for the Party to do better. For a while I thought this had stuck in my mind because it was so rude, then I realised it was because it was so true.

All this self-serving self-deprecation enables me to form a tenuous link to yesterday's Pre-Budget Report, which seems, judging by the papers I read on the plane over, to have got a big thumbs down. The main criticisms is that the Chancellor has failed to grasp the nettle on spending cuts, putting electoral concerns above the need for fiscal responsibility. 

Maybe this is fair and maybe the public will share the commentariat's opposition. But, taking the rare opportunity to shun piousness in favour of political realism, it is worth recalling Labour's history. Most economic historians now agree that Roy Jenkins did not have to set such a severe budget just before the 1970 election, which Labour then lost unexpectedly. Also, there is a credible argument that Dennis Healey could have ridden out the late seventies fiscal crisis without having to borrow from the IMF or impose the swingeing cuts in spending the Fund demanded. The cuts led to the winter of discontent and Labour being out of office for 18 years.

Jenkins and Healey did what they thought they should, or had to, do to get the finances back on track and subsequently paid the electoral price. Perhaps it's not that surprising that Alistair Darling has decided to put off the tough stuff until after the election and hope economic growth will anyway make the choices easier. Maybe from Labour's perspective being responsible isn't the same as being right.

And on this resolutely non-pious note I will sign off and prepare for my free dinner.

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