What a shambles

How many Labour MPs thought it would come to this? Many of them wanted Gordon Brown with a passion, preferring his more socialist approach to Tony Blair’s Third way ambiguity. Many of them thought he was too decisive and powerful to be stopped. Even the minority of loyal Blairites who privately predicted disaster before he was crowned did not have the courage to put up a candidate against him and expose the obvious weaknesses in advance, to spare their party and our nation the agony we are now living through.

Yesterday’s news was a new low for a government which lives by the news and is judged by the headlines.

We had 8000 schools on strike, making a mockery of Labour’s claim to be the party of “education, education, education”.

We saw the Grangemouth refinery closing down to prepare for a strike over pensions, highlighting the immense damage the government has done to private pension schemes.

A government Minister on TV told us they were taking an active part in ensuring proper supplies of diesel and petrol to Scotland, whilst the same TV programme showed five out of six filling stations they visited had already run out of diesel, with some rationing of petrol.

Over in the City there was more news of the mortgage famine, preventing many young people from buying their first home. Ministers tell us helping such people is one of their aims.

News came of a leading housebuilder announcing it would not be starting work on any new housing sites, as demand was so poor. Ministers have spent the last couple of years lecturing us all on the need to build more homes, and trying to find greenfields they can insist we build over.

In the corridors of Westminster Labour MPs were heard asking if the PM and Chancellor’s climb down the previous day over compensation for some of the losers from Labour’s Income Tax rise was a “con”.

Ministers were still cobbling together some way of sending some money back to people they now admit they are overtaxing, but were unable to explain how much would be sent to how many on what date – and this is sorting out a problem created by a budget delivered a year ago.

The problem for Mr Brown is how to break this desultory cycle of bluster, incompetence and climb down. He wants to avoid looking like James Callaghan bedevilled by strikes, visits to the IMF and high inflation in the 1970s. Clearly the spin strategy this week has been to seek to isolate the 10p tax band problem, make the minimum concession to see them through the otherwise difficult vote next week, and then show resolution in the face of future rebellions. Unfortunately for the PM his backbenchers are suspicious, and will demand more detail before they finally settle the tax question. Meanwhile, the rebels over the ghastly 42 day detention policy have not gone away, and will have learnt from this that The PM does change his mind under pressure. Journalists are already circling the issue, looking forward to dramas ahead.

I enjoyed some of the BBC coverage of the strikes. With a hint of incredulity in his voice, one reporter said it was Labour voters (Meaning NUT members) striking against a Labour government. It was an interesting slip. NUT members were never all Labour voters, even in 1997. They are certainly not all Labour voters today! The left is watching as one arm of the Labour movement, the public sector Trade Unions, turns on another, the Labour party in office. It is not a pretty sight, and it is most disruptive for members of the public caught up in the consequences of the battle. Yesterday it was areas that voted strongly Labour in recent elections which were most affected. Diesel is in short supply in Scotland, and more teachers were on strike and more schools closed proportionately in places like Wales, where people had chosen mainly Labour MPs.

To recover from here the Prime Minister needs to change his character and approach. He needs to become more interested in the underlying problems and seek to solve them. The number one problem is people are short of cash to pay the ever rising bills – he needs to understand the damage tax poverty is doing to his reputation. To solve this he needs to lower taxes, which requires running a more efficient public sector. He needs to show more flexibility and more honesty in dealing with Parliament. Where his whips tell him there could be problems he needs to listen and adapt, rather than talking tough and then conceding. He should not conclude from all this that reform is impossible or undesirable. He should understand that public sector reform requires persuasion, strategy and tactical skill.

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18 Comments

  1. Pascal
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Above all, he should go. Although it is sad to say that I am not convinced that Cameron would be any better. The lesser of 2 evils probably.

    However, it seems to me that Brown will hang on to the job, spending his way out by hobbling us with debt forever.

    He is a socialist after all.

  2. tim holden
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    There is a single workable strategy: Run Away. Any further attempt at a Brown relaunch will not work – The Clunking Fist is too heavy ever to float.
    The Labour Party must be hoping that they can blame Brown for everything. There is still a faint hope for them in that.
    There is the prospect of some comic cameo in the difficulties of the current time. Ed Balls is probably thinking "It Could Be Me". There are several unfloatable vessels in government at the moment.

  3. Posted April 25, 2008 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    JR which housebuilder are you talking about ?

    Reply Persimmon

  4. a-tracy
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    JR "more teachers were on strike and more schools closed proportionately in places like Wales, where people had chosen mainly Labour MPs."

    Yes, I wondered about this too, Wales and Liverpool are both areas where the pay differentials between teachers and the average private sector workers make teaching a very financially, as well as personally rewarding, career option. I read the median wage in Liverpool is about £15,000 pa without pension benefits.

    I believe that if the full pay package is considered, in the North especially, teaching is an excellent choice; full sick pay cover, no weekends worrying about whether you're going to be laid off or where the next job is going to come from; and the cream is the pension (that you just can't buy in the private sector), even if you put 20% of your salary away for thirty/fourty years you can't buy a final salary guaranteed pension. The continuous funded training without worrying about who's going to do your job whilst your not there is also advantageous and if you're ambitious there are avenues open to regularly progress. When you can take regular holidays, have your pay fully covered in the event of sickness, have job security and can relax and spend your net income without worrying about pension security in the future, even though the job can appear undervalued it has it's benefits too.

  5. David Eyles
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    It will take years to unpick and re-build after the continual profligate waste of this government. No matter what Gordon Brown tries; no matter how he tries to spin, change his approach or issue "new" policies, he will not be able to conduct the root and branch reform of government that is neccessary to bring taxes down; recover the damage done to pensions; rebuild the armed forces; get our hospitals and health system running properly at a sensible budget; recover the educational gap caused by years of interference and so on, and on, and on.

    Even if the Labour party commit regicide and depose Gordon, there is no-one in the labour party with the skills to recover from this mess. The country has been too deeply damaged: economically, socially, educationally and structurally. Even if a Conservative government takes radical action and goes through central and local government and all the quangos to rip out the waste and dead wood, it will take a decade for the scars to heal over. The Labour party has demonstrated repeatedly that it has no concept of proper management. The sooner they go the better.

  6. Posted April 25, 2008 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Public sector reform also requires decent pay settlements, which are not likely to be forthcoming seeing as the country is £140 billion in the red.
    http://lettersfromatory.wordpress.com

  7. Freeborn John
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I was actually a fan of Mr. Brown for a long time. It should not be forgotten that he kept Britain out of the Euro. He strikes me as intelligent, thoughtful and analytic; qualities which those who do not possess them are very likely to caricature as indecisive. He was clearly master of his previous brief for a long time, even if I will concede that he seems to be struggling to get to grips now he is outside that comfort zone. However his decision to force his MPs to vote against their manifesto commitment put him irretrievably beyond the pale in my eyes.

    I might even say that Mr. Brown struck me as the man among Labour ranks most similar to John Redwood. I wonder who JR would regard as the man or woman on the opposite benches who most shares his own qualities (if not his politics)?

    Reply: Frank Field

  8. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I think that as many QUANGO’s as possible should go , final salary pensions for local government workers should be axed , vouchers should come in for health & education to provide the personalised , choice based services that the PM claims to favour , tax credits must go as an expensive failure , the 42 days should be subject to a free vote , the House of Commons must get more powers to hold ministers to account , the basic personal allowance must go up to £12,000 p/a , winter heating allowance should rise by enough to pay 100% of the average electricity & gas expenses faced by the over 60’s in Autumn/Winter , there should be a referendum on the EU Treaty , the House of Lords should get more power over appointments & to scrutinise legislation and Child Benefit must rise sharply to say £30 a week for the first two children and to £25 for each other child . That would tackle poverty , reduce taxes , improve democracy & the governanace of the UK ( as powers would leave QUANGO’s & be returned to local councils ) and give taxpayers better value for money via better services and less waste .ID cards can go to fund better border security , MOD civil servants can be reduced in number to fund the Afghan & Iraq wars properly and elected local police chiefs would supply an incentive for less PC red tape and more action to cut crime . That raft of reforms would I think tackle many of the issues facing Britain as mention in John Redwwood’s excellent blog.

  9. Rose
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Should John Reid have stood, knowing what had been bequeathed by the then Chancellor?

  10. Tony Makara
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    The prime minister ought to close down the wasteful New Deal, 3.4 billion spent and youth unemployment is still up by 20%. The New Deal is one of Labour's most unproductive of gimmicks with a lot of taxpayers money spent and nothing to show by way of return. I'm disappointed that the Conservative party doesn't do more to expose the failings of the New Deal. Every week we have to listen to Gordon Brown at PMQs doing his 'Enver Hoxha' as he rolls off a list of unchallenged statistics about how the New Deal has put more people in work. This is clearly not true, especially when we consider youth unemployment.

  11. Tim Bull
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    "To recover from here the Prime Minister needs to change his character and approach."

    I just cannot see it happening. Gordon Brown's premiership is mortally wounded. Those around him are too drunk on power to administer the 'coup de grace'.

    And the Tory party can only benefit from his continued presence.

    A bleak outlook for the rest of us outside the gates of Parliament.

  12. Donitz
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Come the revolution Comrades.

    United we Stand.

    We are badly paid and only work 35 weeks a year.

  13. Patrick, London
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    We have to live with this bunch for another 2 years. God only knows how much more damage and despair will be done by then.

    Don't fancy PM Cameron's job of shrinking the public sector monster much either! This country is going to be in the sh*^ for years to come. At least our overlords in Brussels have our best interests at heart. 🙁

    What's the address of the Canadian High Commission again? Job and housing market in Vancouver look great.

  14. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    We should axe the New Deal & replace Job Seekers Allowance and Incapacity Benefit with a new sort of payment to save money by slashing economic inactivity . Employment spending ought to be cut & rail subsidies cut with the structure reformed so that private money is used to fund making things better ( via less red tape , more choice and competition and a restored link between train and track ) . The money saved could fund a Citizenship Pension designed to reduce red tape & poverty while boosting incentives to save . Final Salary Related Pensions need to be axed in the public sector with the money saved used to cut corporation taxes so that long term we can move away from many complex allowances & many high rates toward a 10% flat rate . All that I suggest would stop pension strikes as if the state pension was a simple & generous one people would not need to worry about private pension schemes and lower corporate taxes would boost profitability making private pensions more secure ( if business paid less tax they might find private provision more affordable ). Besides we need to be tax competitive to get productivity , well paid jobs , investment etc rising again . A good way out of the malaise I think !

  15. Bazman
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    I would say that strikes are healthy for society. Teaches any government. In particularly, the government who ultimately is in charge. Marvelousness….

  16. Tony Makara
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    "Don’t fancy PM Cameron’s job of shrinking the public sector monster much either!"

    Patrick, its a very similar situation to the one Ronald Reagan inherited from Jimmy Carter, a bloated public sector and stagflation. Reagan was brave enough to take the axe to the many wasteful 'services' at the time, even though he knew he would have to take the flak because it meant job cuts. However it was necessary and a similar approach is needed here, the state sector has grown so large it will act like a millstone around our economy. David Cameron needs to adopt the spirit of Reagan and get out that axe.

  17. Ian Evans
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Interesting to hear JR compare Frank Field's qualities to his own.

    I must say that of the left I too have always had some respect for FF. But, how on earth did he fall for GB's could-be, maybe, sometime-or-never, partial U-turn, at least for some and for some part of, the 10p debacle? Did GB bribe FF? Blackmail? Perhaps just flattery – surely he can't have been fool enough to take GB at his word?!

    Reply: I did not compare FF's qualities with my own – I was asked a difficult question and foolishly answered it. There are many differences between Frank and myself.

  18. John, Wrexham
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    labour's failure to have a leadership battle was a sign that the party was bereft of any new ideas, that any real dynamisn had fizzled out and they just thought they were appointing a new 'manager', rather than deciding what their direction would be in the coming years.

    perhaps if Gordon Brown had had to stand in a proper leadership election, his party might have had a chance to put him under the spotlight. these coronations never seem to work: Michael Howard was hardly a great success, except in comparison to his predecessor. while with the liberals, Ming Campbell did not really have to compete as everyone saw him as a caretaker and then they soon got bored with waiting for him to handover so booted him out. meanwhile david cameron and david davies both helped the conservatives by debating the issues out in the open, rather than in dark corners as the current govt party is doing.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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