Interview: Dr Peter Slowe

By Ian Dunt

It’s the morning after the night before, and economic analysts are still trying to find their way through the ins and outs of last night’s London G20 communiqué.

Dr Peter Slowe is one of them. As a former economic policy advisor to Tony Blair and current managing director of Projects Abroad, which organises volunteering in the third world, he has two primary interests: the effect on party politics and the effect on development.

On the latter, the conclusion is overwhelmingly positive. “I thought it was a very positive outcome, particularly to help the kind of countries where projects have been held up. A quarter of the trillion that’s been allocated will support the economies there. And the support allocated to the IMF means in the medium-term people can buy mortgages and get the economy moving again over here.”

The party political analysis is more complicated. Exactly what kind of a bounce can Gordon Brown expect from hosting the summit – an event he has been relentlessly talking up in recent months?

“Opinion polls are mysterious things,” he says. “I suspect there will be a bounce because of all the publicity, and because so many world leaders have praised his organisation and the outcome of the summit – even those who don’t respect him. But there probably will be a disappointment in short-term outcomes.

“In my opinion, the benefits will hit for Britain around December, January, February time – just in time for a May general election.”

Over the last few months we’ve had a strange game between Brown and the Tories. The downturn began with David Cameron maintaining an unpopular stance, opposing a fiscal stimulus and appearing increasingly isolated on the world stage. Brown made considerable political capital out of this. Then the tables appeared to turn. Mervyn King, Angela Merkel, and even mutterings from Alistair Darling himself, began to oppose further stimulus. Suddenly it was Brown looking isolated. Now, with Brown lionised on the International stage, are we seeing another revolution?

“It certainly seems the Tories look isolated,” Slowe replies. “They welcomed the deal, of course, and put themselves on the side of the summit agreement. They also said now is the time to pay short-term attention to the British economy, and getting banks to lend again, and to that extent I think we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet. Their problem is that they opposed the original fiscal stimulus. There was one in France, in Germany, a huge one in the US and a substantial one in the UK. They were totally isolated. They now seem to be more on board.

“I think there’s a lot of disagreement between Ken Clarke [shadow business secretary] and George Osborne [shadow chancellor] about the line that should be taken. But they’re off the hook a little because people aren’t taking that much interest. They’ll now just support what’s going on.”

With all government and media attention firmly on the G20 it appears everyone has forgotten about the Budget, on April 22nd. But now analysts are starting to look towards that little red box for an indication of how things will proceed. Any predictions?

“It’s very difficult to predict what the Budget is going to say,” Slowe says. “I think it’s probably going to be a rather neutral Budget. The handouts have already been given and at the same time the tax increases which will be necessary won’t be made until 2010, so I would predict a neutral Budget. The budget has become curiously unimportant. It’s been very dramatic. Quite exciting really.”

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