A speech can impress party members but doesn’t mend the economy

If proof were needed that many politicians and some political commentators live in a parallel universe, the response yesterday to Mr Brown’s speech was conclusive. Yes, Mrs Brown appears to be a very nice lady, and supports her husband. Now there’s a surprise!. Yes, Mr Brown can weave more of his personal story into a major speech, if his advisers and presentation team help him to do so. Yes, Mr Brown has always says he wants more fairness in society, and may well believe that. Yes, Mr Brown is serious and hard working.

None of this should have been in doubt. The issue with this government is not what they say, but what they do and what the results of their actions and inactions are.

Gordon may well have wanted to end “child poverty” and “fuel poverty”, but his flawed analysis, seeing these as different from poverty overall, and his failure to lift more than 5 million of working age out of benefit dependency are what matter. He chose to stop poverty by offering hand outs rather than hand ups and it has not worked.

Gordon may well have wanted to end “boom and bust” as he constantly told us, but he has ended up by presiding over an excessive credit bubble of a boom, and is now taking us into a bust, with mounting unemployment and falling asset values. One bank is already nationalised and another is seeking a rapid merger with a partner with a competition policy override. The falling house prices, lost jobs and bankrupt businesses will follow this winter.

Gordon may have been misguided enough to think he made the Bank of England independent by taking many of its crucial functions away, and may well have thought he had created a new low inflation stability. Time has proved this to be wrong, indicating yet another major misjudgement.

The sad truth is Gordon still does not get it. Far from being the man to lead us through the troubled financial waters, he is the man who does not understand why we are in the mess, let alone have policies to get us out. In his first three years as Chancellor, when he followed inherited Conservative spending plans, he did a good job as Chancellor (leaving aside the raid on the pension funds and the odd sale of gold). He repaid debt, the economy strengthened and we had low inflationary growth. In this century he turned to spend and borrow as his strategy:things started to go horribly awry.

Listening to him over this troubled summer, he still seems to think that spending more can buy him popularity. He seems ignorant of the extent of the government deficit, and the big increase in borrowing he is now presiding over. We saw the £2.7 bn package for the 10p tax band error, the North West transport package and the Aircraft carriers. Now at this conference we have free tickets for young people to go to the theatre and free computers with internet connections for 1.4 million households. These are all worthy ideas, but they show an underlying inability to understand a simple political truth – people will not vote for him to say thank you if they are losing their jobs, under pressures in their businesses and watching their house prices tumble. Knowing you can go to the theatre on the taxpayer does not make up for the inability to get a mortgage to buy your first home. It’s even worse to know that your ticket was bought with borrowed money you will have to help the nation repay in future.

He’s not even good at the politics. All of the carefully crafted spending packages that just happened to occur near the time of elections did not buy a single victory. Why can’t he get it? We need sound economic management, and that has to start by curbing the deficit, getting value for the money spent and controlling the borrowing of the state.

So today I add one more soundbite to the dustbin of history, to rot alongside “No more boom and bust” and “We made the Bank independent and created economic stability” – “Gordon Brown is the man with experience to see us through difficult financial times”.

Last night I heard David Cameron speak. He did see the need for fiscal responsibililty, for greater Bank of England powers to supervise money markets and the banking system and for progress in getting the Uk higher up the league table of competitiveness instead of slipping further down with the lost jobs and lower incomes that entails.

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20 Comments

  1. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I just cannot understand why the media did not react as you have. I find it frightening how so many people just do not understand basic economics. We cannot go on just spending on all these things. It is all very well having good intentions, but you can do nothing without the wealth in the first place.

    Will we end up at the doors of the IMF again.? Browns intentions bring that day nearer.

  2. James
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    And is not Gordon Brown a novice in his job as Prime Minister. He certainly gives a good impression of one.
    So much of a novice in fact, the majority of the population think he is the worst Prime Minister ever.

  3. Harry Johnston
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Hear hear. John I couldn't agree more.

    The large majority of people will probably not initially realise that, "your ticket was bought with borrowed money [that] you will have to help the nation repay in future". Incapability Brown is the master at these gimmicks, giving out "presents" at taxpayers expense.

  4. tim holden
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    How bad did they expect Brown's speech to be? And what could he have done that would not have earned a standing ovation from that audience?

    Weeks of preparation went into that speech and all the spin that surrounded it. One wonders about the relative importance of his empty words compared to the dark realities of increasing unemployment, collapsing banks, and spiralling debt.

    And as reduced state spending would appear to be absent from the list of solutions, it is now time for one of the pollsters to do a comparison poll of voting intentions of those who work for the state compared to those who do not. This element of the Brown survival plan must be exposed.

    But in terms of master strategy, one has to question as to who benefits most from Gordon Brown's survival – Labour or the Conservatives? The answer is fairly obvious. The turkeys didn't vote for Christmas – they are simply hoping that Christmas will never come.

  5. Simon_C
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I heard Gordon was talking about £700 vouchers to get poorer families online. If the government are paying £700 per PC then we know where lots of the cost overrun of government projects come from.

    To browse the web, help kids to their homework and interact with government sites a simple £200 or less net-PC would be more than enough. All £700 will do is fund the next generation of computer games players. !!

  6. lucysharp
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    I wish you were Shadow Chancellor.

  7. Tony Makara
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Gordon and Sarah's contrived moment played out like a scene of Nicolae and Elena, still believing they were loved, completely unaware of vitriolic national sentiment. This was a speech made entirely of subordinate clauses, the prime minister telling the nation that he intends to change things, but not telling us how. Half sentences from a man with a half-baked plan, Brown's political spirit is willing but his political policy is weak.

  8. Ken
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely true. The party hacks loved the speech. Labourhome is patting itself on the back. But, for Labour it was a disaster. Gordon is tactically astute – who can forget the persistent campaigns against Tony or the flurry of "beyond party politics" announcements he made when he became leader? He is good at the short term tactical pronoucements.

    But, it ignores two basic points – Gordon wasnt a particularly good Chancellor – he talked the talk, but he didnt walk the walk. He used to talk about neo classical growth theory. But, he hasnt improved British competitiveness much despite having had a huge windfall. Secondly, the British public is absolutely furious about the economy and taxes, going towards the left as Labour has done, is exactly the wrong strategy. But Gordon is a tactician, with a tin ear for strategy.

    For the UK this is a bad thing in the short run, as it means more Gordon, more bad government, slightly more left wing policies. But, in the long run as it becomes clear how incompetent Gordon really is (I predict the "novice" claim is going to be a source of ridicule), it should do Labour a lot of damage. Also while Gordon has tactically secured left wing inaction, he remains fundamentally a gutless trimmer of the centre, so he will eventually lose left wing support. All of this suggests a bad time for Labour, which is a good thing for the UK in the medium term.

  9. Acorn
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    I was getting excited when I got to the last paragraph of the above. Then I read "He did see the need for …".

    I was hoping that there would be another paragraph; before I got to SHARE AND ENJOY; which would start, "So the Conservatives will …". Unfortunately, there was no "share and enjoy" paragraph. Probably still too far from the election, I expect for such sharing.

    Hang about, young Douglas has just e-mailed the answer to my question:- http://conservativehome.blogs.com/platform/2008/0

    Another one to join the "Localist Papers" on that dusty shelf at CCHQ me thinks.

  10. mikestallard
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Gordon Brown's speech was just what the Labour party wanted to hear. It encouraged them in their beliefs.
    So why do I think of Dr Johnson talking about a dog walking on its hind legs? You are surprised to see it done at all.
    I pitied the poor lemmings in the red hall standing up and sitting down exstatically. It is just about their last gasp.

    • Johnny Norfolk
      Posted September 25, 2008 at 12:15 am | Permalink

      Problem is there are alot of lemmings.

  11. GeoffH
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Yes, the BoE should regain its powers to regulate the banking and financials systems.

    The FSA has been too focused on consumer protection and taken its eye of the ball in that area.

    In fact, I suspect the regulatory needs in the consumer area would be better allocated to the Office of Fair Trading and the FSA simply wound up altogether.

  12. DennisA
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    He said he mended the roof whilst the sun shone, trouble is he ran off with the lead….

  13. David morris
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    John,

    what is needed is for every senior member of your party to be repeating the context of your excellent post again, and again. I hope this starts to happen at conference next week,, I cannot believe how many blatant mistruths (national debt, 18% inflation under the Tories etc) Brown is allowed to repeat, without any challenge from your party, even in PMQs.

    meanwhile you can bet your life that Cameron will not be given the easy ride by media that Brown enjoyed, especially by the "completely unbiased" BBC. Let's hope that he nails his speech, with some meat on the bone about real policy direction, even if we all know any detailed policy will be copied, and ultimately ruined, by Brown and his bunch of halfwits.

  14. Bazman
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Politics is a bit like religion John. When Labour got into power I was down. Now a few years later things are sweet. I firmly believe the Labour party are responsible for this. How is a Tory government going to help me?

    • mikestallard
      Posted September 25, 2008 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Maybe you are blessed with children?
      Maybe you hope for a pension when you retire?
      Maybe you want the pound in your pocket to be able to buy foreign goods (like oil?)
      Maybe you would like the armed forces loved and cherished?
      Finally, how about some attempt at getting the Police back onto the streets?
      Perhaps, as you say, things can only get better?

  15. Socrates
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Many years ago I attended my last Conservative Party Conference after nearly twenty consecutive years. John Major was wrecking the Party's reputation and selling the Country out to Europe whilst pretending to be a Conservative. I was very amused to observe the magical effect of TV cameras on the behaviour of the assembled representatives. Those familiar with the Winter Gardens will remember that there was an overflow area in the ballroom adjacent to the main hall. During the wait for the leader's address those who happened to be sitting there did so merely by chance based on their position in the queue rather than some political selection. In the overflow area was a giant screen showing the picture being broadcast from the conference hall. In the overflow area, we were treated to a truly surreal scene. With no watching cameras, it was possible to see the real feelings of the audience as various cabinet ministers were introduced. Whilst the screen in front of us relayed apparently enthusiastic applause in the main hall for the likes of Heseltine, Clarke and Dorrell, this normally polite, refined and random sample of the Party workers greeted them with an overwhelming barrage of boos, catcalls, hisses and slow handclapping.

    Had there been a similar overflow area at Manchester yesterday perhaps we might have experienced what the Labour Party workers really felt.

  16. Posted September 25, 2008 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    I estimate that I now spend about 65% of each day working just to pay my personal level of tax – and I am not one of the mythical rich. Brown's "novice" mismanagement of the economy and the raising of the national debt – which figure he seems unable to accurately reproduce – means that I will now have to spend nearly 70% of my day just trying to get to break even.

    Eventually, if he flogs this horse for long enough, it will fall over with a gasp and expire and he won't be able to flog it any more.

    I hope he sleeps well at night, tucked up tight with his puerile presbyterian philosophies.

    He aspired to high office, an office to which he is unsuited and incapable of fulfilling with any success. Were he a CEO, the board would have kicked him out long ago. Why does UK Plc suffer such fools?

    His conference speech was all about "me, me me!" It was a mini budget speech with no care about the country or the people. His every announcement is a piece of PR spin with no actual deliverables. He is worse than Blair and without the ability to even make it entertaining. I still don't know from the vacuous hot air he came up with in his conference speech, what he is going to do to sort this country out apart from speed up the process of installing the ID card scheme so he can monitor our every thought and deed.

    If I wanted to live in a Stalinist country with a bust economy then I could go somewhere in the eastern block.

    He is hopeless at everything, even PR, and should crawl back in to the hole he came out of before – and I agree wholeheartedly with George Osborne – he bankrupts the country. No wonder the US didn't want him anywhere near their economy and Paulsen refused to see him. They've heard of the curse of Jonah and probably want nothing to do with his half-baked schemes.

    You're absolutely right and it is about time we kicked out this apology for a government and its empty-headed stooge. Even George Bush sounds like a towering intellect by comparison.

  17. APL
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Simon_C: "To browse the web, help kids to their homework and interact with government sites a simple £200 or less net-PC would be more than enough."

    This really REALLY infuriates me! My son now thinks it is imperitive to have internet access to do his homework. The school supplies him with photocopied pages, not a text book in sight. I often suggest he trots of down to the library where he will find, you know, books.

    I swear, he has never used an index to find a topic in a book. The resistance displayed when I suggest he does is enough to make my blood boil.

    God help this next generation when due to Labour dithering we have power cuts and energy rationing.

    I have seen what the state school system has done, I hate it.

  18. Rose
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    So now we are in the Brown Bust we are to have free computers, free theatre tickets, free swimming, free nurseries, and a whole lot more I've probably forgotten… why not throw in free petrol and free booze as well, and not just for us but for the whole world.

  • 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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