Former Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell has hit out at Labour’s dismissal of the ‘Happiness Index’, published yesterday by the Office of National Statistics. Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Michael Dugher MP rejected the Measuring National Wellbeing Programme as “a statement-of-the-bleeding-obvious [and] a waste of taxpayers’ money,” prompting Lord McConnell to describe Labour’s response as “ignorant” and to say of Dugher “the guy sounds like a caveman”.

Jack McConnell on Labour's response to the Measuring National Wellbeing Programme

Of course, there is much that is not ideal about this government’s foray into wellbeing economics. The results so far are extremely limited and focus largely on the subjective (“Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?”), though this is due to change as the programme develops. Some commentators have rightly warned that, like any information, it could be abused and misrepresented by the government in pursuit of ideological ends.

But ultimately it is difficult to defend any approach to economic policy other than one rooted in wellbeing economics. In order to claim a successful economic policy we have to know what the purpose of the economy is, and I challenge you to propose a better purpose than making us as equitably, sustainably happy as possible.

Don’t think for a second that an economy without a wellbeing compass is purposeless. The purpose of our current economic policies is clear: to maximise the wealth and power of the very richest. Studying our wellbeing instead of just GDP gives us the opportunity to debate whether this is a noble cause, and challenge whether we ever agreed to it in the first place.

I applaud Lord McConnell for seeking an opposition to this government that is worthy of the name. We are in an historic crisis and we need leaders prepared to find and articulate a radically different path to the one that got us here. Sadly, it seems, the Labour party is not that opposition.