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ALEX BRUMMER: Starmer blows hot air with his target for the economy 

Given Labour’s formidable lead in the opinion polls, it is hard not to take Keir Starmer’s mission to change Britain seriously.

Yet one cannot but think that his pledge to turn the UK into the fastest growing economy among the G7 advanced nations is a nonsense.

Economic performance is not some kind of Premier League table. Some Brits may well wake up in the morning and contemplate whether Arsenal or Manchester City is top of the table. 

Unrealistic: If Labour leader Kier Starmer is really serious about unleashing growth he needs to recognise that promising to be business friendly is not enough

They will not give a hoot as to whether output in the US or Japan is expanding faster than in the UK.

There may be Brexit enthusiasts who are glad to see that UK prospects are better, say, than those in France. But this is not a meaningful competition.

What voters want to understand is a better path to prosperity. That is something that Starmer failed to articulate. 

Instead there were vague mumblings about speeding to a green economy and drawing on best ideas from the private and public sectors.

If Starmer is really serious about unleashing growth, he needs to recognise that promising to be business friendly is not enough. Investment will only be unchained by favourable tax policies. 

That means bringing down the headline rate of tax so that AstraZeneca’s next production line is in Macclesfield, not Dublin. 

Or offering generous tax breaks for R&D and skills training. Starmer might learn from Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act which is already distorting global patterns of investment through government subsidies and tax reliefs, aimed at bringing green investment home.

Tesla is to shrink its footprint for advanced batteries in Germany and re-shore production in the US. 

Unless the current government, or a future Labour administration, urgently commits to the development of Rolls-Royce small modular reactors (SMRs) – a proven technology which would speed the UK’s decarbonisation – it may well find US and Japanese rivals gain first mover advantage. 

The notion of ‘missions’ has been purloined from UCL economist Mariana Mazzucato. She believes that it requires governments and industry to rally behind goals, such as getting humans on the moon, to unleash the genius of an economy.

There are any number of such missions in the UK, ranging from supporting fintech to the hilt, backing the creative sector and cutting loose life sciences through less oppressive regulation.

Embracing such missions is how greater productivity, innovation and growth will be unsheathed. Vague promises to outperform Italy or Japan – both very different economic models – are muddled thinking which Britain can ill-afford.

War footing

A year on from the savage war on Ukraine, the belief in the West that sanctions against Russia and the withdrawal of Western commerce from Moscow would bring Vladimir Putin’s regime tumbling down has proved false.

Even if Unilever, HSBC, BP, BAT et al were willing and able to fully uproot themselves from the country, the impact would be minor. Moscow simply reoriented energy exports and commerce to China and India. Output has shrunk by just 3 per cent.

Ukraine and the rest of the world have received a mighty blow. More than 5m have fled Ukraine, output has plunged 30 per cent and the cost of reconstruction is put at £292billion by the World Bank and £625billion by Kyiv itself.

Elsewhere, the energy supply shock wiped 4 per cent off Europe’s overall GDP and unleashed a great inflation.

There are going to be eventual big winners in the West, beyond oil companies reaping huge profits. In Britain and across Nato, the prospect for established defence players – such as BAE Systems – immediately are improved. 

As much as that is comforting, it comes at a terrible price to the prospects of future peace in Europe.

America first

Joe Biden has lost no time in naming the US candidate for next president of the World Bank. 

The ink was barely dry on the Bank’s requirements for the new job, including encouragement for women candidates, when Indian-born private equity and Mastercard tycoon Ajay Banga was nominated.

Unless something grisly is unveiled in Banga’s background, it is hard to see the American candidate being shot down.

The pre-emptive strike is embarrassing for other big shareholders, including the UK, who likely will be deprived of choice.

But no US nominee, including Right-wing ideologue Paul Wolfowitz, failed to make it since the bank was established in 1944.


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