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.