Clarke accused of creating 'boomlet'

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The Independent Online
Kenneth Clarke, Chancellor of the Exchequer, was yesterday accused of launching a pre-election boom by one of the Treasury's independent advisers, writes Diane Coyle.

Tim Congdon, chief economist at the City firm Lombard Street Research and a member of the Chancellor's Panel of Independent Forecasters, said the pressure of an impending general election was putting Britain's economic stability at risk.

Professor Congdon said Mr Clarke deserved credit for four years of steady growth and low inflation. "However, Britain's new-found financial stability is in jeopardy," he writes in his latest client newsletter.

It was too soon to be sure that there would be a "Clarke boom", in a direct parallel to the Maudling, Barber and Lawson boom, he said. But he added: "The phrase 'Clarke boomlet' would be reasonable."

Professor Congdon, a well-known monetarist, points to rapid monetary growth since the start of 1995, marked increases in the prices of assets such as housing and land prices and brisk consumer spending as signs of boom conditions.

There was a worrying conflict between the Bank of England's foreboding about inflation dangers and Mr Clarke's complacency, Professor Congdon argues.

He concludes: "The meetings-and-minutes framework of monetary policy still leaves too much power over interest rates in political hands. It would be better if interest rate decisions were taken by the Bank of England, not in Whitehall, and so were more thoroughly depoliticised."