Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Brown's poison pills part 1: the worst Prime Minister of modern times

There is a lot of competition for the designation of worst PM since World War II.

* After the disastrous mishandling of Britain's involvement in Iraq, many people would nominate Tony Blair.

* Sir Harold Wilson has a strong claim - the Prime Minister who took the fall when the collapse of the British economy resulted in the worst spending cuts in history (far more severe than anything Maggie Thatcher or David Cameron has done) and the following "Winter of Discontent" in which the dead were left unburied, the rubbish uncollected and the sick refused medical treatment was Jim Callaghan, but the mistakes which created that situation were mostly made on Harold Wilson's watch.

* Many people would nominate Ted Heath, particularly those who don't think Britain should have joined what was then called the Common Market.

* I was not born at the time of the Suez debacle, but Anthony Eden certainly did not come out of it well.

* To the left it is of course an article of faith that absolutely everything which has gone wrong with Britain since 1979 is Margaret Thatcher's fault.

Obviously, some of the above cases I sympathise with and some I strongly disagree with. But the person who I would nominate as the worst Prime Minister since the war is the one who most perfectly reflects this comment from Thomas Sowell:

I cannot think of a better summary of Gordon Brown's premiership than the one which was given by a member of his own party, Hopi Sen, in an article called We need to talk about Gordon, in which he wrote:

"The premiership of Gordon Brown was a failure of such enormous proportions and devastating consequence that we in the Labour Party will not win a general election until we understand what went so terribly, terribly wrong."

Gordon Brown was responsible for a number of particularly atrocious decisions and actions.

His government was rightly condemned for managing it's relationship with the police in such a way that an opposition MP could be arrested for being too effective at embarrassing the government and his home raided by nine anti-terror police officers; the sort of thing which usually only happens in tin-pot despotisms or regimes like Apartheid South Africa. (Brown himself would have been arrested many times as an opposition MP if the police had been encouraged by Mrs Thatcher's government to treat the opposition the way they did while he was PM.)

Brown will also be remembered for selling off the country's gold reserves at rock bottom prices (this may have been a disguised way if subsidising the banks) for denying the voters the promised referendum on the EU constitution (later known as the Lisbon treaty) and by achieving the difficult feat of infuriating both Eurosceptics and pro-Europeans at once when he signed the treaty on his own, hours after all the other EU leaders had done so, apparently in the hope that nobody would notice he had signed it. Fat chance!

However, the worst series of decisions Brown made as Chancellor and PM are the ones that the country is still paying for five years after he left office and will still be paying for a decade from now, and there are a whole raft of them.

A cynic could look at several of the actions taken in the last couple of years of Brown's premiership and conclude that he had decided he was bound to lose the 2010 election and was trying to minimise that loss and maximise Labour's chances of returning at the following election by taking decisions designed to look good in the very short term at the price of consequences which would be extremely difficult to deal with in the future.

Whether or not this was the plan, the reality is that Gordon Brown left a whole string of "Poison Pills" for the governments which succeeded his. Most resulted from decisions taken in his final two years as PM though one was taken within weeks of his becoming chancellor and one - the deficit and debt - was built up throughout his time in power.

He did get two very important things right. He devolved responsibility for interest rates and inflation to the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, a very good decision which enabled the strong economy he inherited from Ken Clarke to last a great deal longer than it would have given all his other mistakes - though in the end it only delayed the time of reckoning. And he stopped Tony Blair from bouncing us into the Euro - the economic crisis which began in 2008 would have been much worse if we had not had our own currency and central bank and it is very hard to see how we could have emerged from it.

But aside from that he had a negative record which left a whole serious of calamitous problems for his successors.

This week I will be posting a series of articles about Brown's Poison Pills which looks at each aspect of his dire legacy in turn, and which will address:

  • Pensions
  • Savings
  • Tax Credits
  • The Banking crisis
  • PFI hospitals
  • Debt


Jim said...

I would also add in the gold selling spectacle (which as we both know was the first "bank bailout")

Jim said...

Still has to be one of my favourite clips of his

gordons gaffes