Most people who study, follow and/or advocate Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) in the UK probably know that the one official advocacy body here – the Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies (GIMMS) – is organising an event at the Labour Fringe – the unofficial events around the official Labour Conference in Brighton next week. I want to make a few comments about this.
I say this is the only official MMT advocacy body because of the many eminent MMT academics, practitioners and advocates who have backed this group by joining the advisory board. Primarily this blog post is addressed to that board.
First of all, I fully support that GIMMS is organising a meeting promoting MMT at this event. That is a key part of its advocacy. Such a body surely should also organise events at all major party conferences, the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and so on? Well, it is doing so at the Greens conference and that is to be commended too. However, it is not at the other major party conferences and that is a pity. I suspect that is because we do not know significant people, in either of those parties, that could help us do so. For sure, both of those parties are far more wedded to a neoliberal political program than Labour (although that still is with, e.g. its Fiscal Rule) but neither are intrinsically neoliberal and could still promote their own political values without neoliberalism (albeit some would have to change) and through MMT. Unlikely, at present, I know but still, if we do not show them There are Real Alternatives – TARA – then they will remain stuck, through ignorance (as opposed to choice – we can’t reach those), in TINA – There Is No Alternative. Hopefully, next year, GIMMS will organise events at all party conferences.
Some of you might be aware that I have had issues with GIMMS original planned meeting promoting the highly controversial and suspended Labour MP Chris Williamson to speak alongside Bill Mitchell. I had previously asked for GIMMS stance on this and now have an answer and one with which I am extremely disappointed and concerned.
This is not the place to discuss the antisemitic issues specifically with regard to Chris Williamson, that has been covered thoroughly elsewhere. Whatever you position over this, it is surely undeniable that this makes him both controversial and divisive. So why did GIMMS invite him to speak?
I can only guess but there appear to be two rather obvious reasons and one questionable one.
First no one more than Bill Mitchell (along with Warren Mosler) has worked to promote and get traction for MMT in polities around the world. As I understand it Chris Williamson is the first MP to publicly support and promote MMT. The first of many I hope. Still he is currently the only one. (Given his noted notoriety I hope that Bill’s efforts to find any MP who could openly advocate MMT has just blinded him to the other issues surrounding him).
Second, he is a Labour MP and this is the Labour Fringe.
The third one is more of a marketing or PR nature, his controversial status would help promote MMT. I am really not sure about this but certainly this had to be factored in anyway, one way or another, in deciding to have him at this event. And surely the advisory board would have been consulted on this both for the the meeting and any statements made by GIMMS in this regard?.
Still he is a suspended MP and currently without the Labour Whip. He specifically is barred from official Labour Conference.
He is so controversial that he has been barred by various venues, obviously not the Fringe event organisers who invited him, from speaking at various Labour Fringe events. This now includes the main GIMMS event and so it is proceeding without him. However GIMMS still plans to have another meeting with him there and they have not remained neutral on this controversy and this is what I am addressing here.
Now if the meeting had gone ahead with Chris Williamson I was in two minds as to whether to attend or not.
On the one hand, I have previously expressed my concern that the association with Chris Williamson could tarnish the MMT brand in the UK.
It is important to note that I only paid attention to Chris Williamson because, long ago, I was informed that he was the only MP openly promoting MMT but I was concerned over his connection with antisemitic issues. Plenty told me one issue should not overlap with the other and I agreed then but needed to find out more. Now whilst antisemitism has always been a concern to me, in the various groups and organisations I have been involved in over many years, it was always secondary and mostly very minor. So I needed to find out more about Chris Williamson and Labour Antisemitism and spent much effort researching this. I have learnt far more about antisemitism than I wished but do not regret this work in the slightest. As a consequence, my position on Chris Williamson is that a necessary but not sufficient condition to fix problems in the Labour Party is that he needs to be expelled. For sure, I am aware that many will completely disagree with my position here, well we both now know each others views on this.
Anyway, given this, I would not wanted to have been the person to aggravate the controversy in that meeting. I certainly would never have initiated it nor been pro-active but I certainly might have found it difficult not to be reactive. I had hoped the GIMMS meeting could and should focus solely on the economics and the politics of economics and nothing else. The question outstanding to GIMMS was whether they were to remain neutral on this and ensure such controversy would not obfuscate the primary thrust of the meeting,
On the other hand, on the assumption that this meeting was going to be neutral on this controversy, I would have attended and hopefully learnt something more about MMT and the Green New Deal and so on. I would have had no interest in Chris Williamson talking on these topics especially when we have Bill present, but to hear Bill speak again and to network with others would have been worth it.
Still, even given my stance on Chris Williamson, there is a topic that would have been worthwhile to hear him speak on and one which GIMMS could have promoted in an uncontroversial manner (as they could the planned one too). GIMMS could have said something along the following, which goes back to my point about GIMMS advocacy of MMT at all party conferences:
‘We are inviting Chris Williamson as a sitting MP to speak on the challenges of getting other MPs in various parties to be educated and understand MMT. We recognise that he is currently suspended and controversial but we take no position on that controversy and that issue is not to be discussed in any way in this meeting’.
I would certainly have been interested in that talk, would have attended and would not have had concerns over GIMMS promoting it in that manner. Whether you like my topic or the planned one, either way I expected (and previously asked) GIMMS to make an effort to block or neutralise the controversial aspects of this MP.
This is not what happened
On the 24th of August GIMMS issue a Press Release , in which they made a number of concerning statements.
First, with regard to Chris Williamson, over the antisemitism issues they state: “we know are false allegations against him”!! Really? How do they know? On what basis can Prue Plumridge, Sara Holland and Claire Jackson-Prior confidently claim this? Because he said so? How do they know in spite of a series of copious publicly available independently verifiable evidence? Can this all be subjectively interpreted to make him innocent of all allegations? With difficulty but I guess so. Not sure how that counts as objective knowledge and for this official body to make such a strong a statement, one quite unnecessary and irrelevant to MMT theory, practice and advocacy, whether you you disagree with me or not over their claims about Chris Williamson, they are clearly no longer neutral on this matter and very much over-reaching. I am not going to speculate on their motives but, as I have said before, this is not a good look. A great disappointment. Far from avoiding controversy they are courting it. Is this a planned and carefully considered PR move?
“Having searched without success for an alternative venue at such short notice and following a great deal of discussion and personal distress we have taken the difficult decision to go ahead.” Did this discussion involve the advisory board? It should have done.
“We are painfully aware that this may cause some unease amongst our supporters however we hope that you will understand our reasons.” They were already aware that inviting him, if not handled carefully, would cause unease among other supporters – and surely not just me. Whilst I have addressed Bill’s over-reaction to a tweet not addressed to him in a previous post, I did not need let alone expect support on that. Yet it happened. However, most of it was private. It seems no one else wanted to put their head above the parapet as I had done, not only due to Bill’s over-reaction but to GIMMS now quite clear position over Chris Williamson.
They continue with “However, whilst we share left-wing values, we also took the decision at the organisation’s inception to remain politically non-aligned.” That is exactly what they have failed to do by clearly coming out and supporting Chris Williamson – not through inviting him to talk, as I noted above that could have been handled sensibly and sensitively – but by their non-neutral stance here: “we know are false allegations against him”. This is nothing to do with genuine left-wing values. A blatant performative contradiction.
“Whilst we are indeed very disappointed and upset by this turn of events there are plans afoot for Bill to join Chris, a much valued MMT advocate in the UK, on a fringe platform elsewhere on the same day. We are, however, not in a position to give any details at the moment as the logistics are currently being worked out.”
My primary concern over the official organisation in all of this. If Bill had wanted to organise a non-GIMMS meeting with Chris Williamson that would have been another matter. And one perfectly possible too. (Not so long ago Bill had a free slot and asked to see if I could organise something (not with Chris of course) but I had no time). Now I would have disagreed with Bill on this but it would not have been the official UK organisation doing it. It seems GIMMS still want to promote such a meeting even if they do not organise it? Far from hoping GIMMS would neutralise any controversy over Chris Williamson, it now seems they have gone out of their way to court controversy. And that is my concern.
Were the advisory board consulted on any of this? What is their position on this? I am addressing Warren Mosler, L Randall Wray, Mathew Forstater, Stephanie Kelton, Pavlina R. Tcherneva, Fadhel Kaboub, Rohan Grey and Steven Hall (and Deborah Harrington and Jessica Ormerod). Also the GIMMS associates too Phil Armstrong and Alan Hutchinson.
Given the divisive position that GIMMS has taken over Chris Williamson how effective do you think they can be to convince other Labour MPs, let alone MPS from other parties? As I see it, this has impaired their advocacy ability going forward.
Whatever anyone says or does not say, does not alter any of the evidence and reasoning behind MMT, we desperately need an official body to promote MMT in the UK, however do you want one that is so currently and unnecessarily divisive?
I know I am not the only one who wants to know.