Comment at end
12th April 2010
THE RETURN OF BLAIRISM (WHEN DID IT GO AWAY?)
Before I get to discuss which was the better economist – Brown or Blair – this in today’s Times – ‘Brown becoming Blair’ (if only!) is worth your attention. Excerpt:
‘Five years after Gordon Brown shared an ice-cream with Tony Blair, Labour’s leaders are once again offering the electorate a “two-for-one” offer.
Mr Blair — currently on holiday — may not be on the platform in Birmingham later today but his legacy will flavour almost every page of Labour’s manifesto.’
Also reported at The Independent. This took shape and firm roots during Tony Blair’s relentless 10 months entrenchment exercise of his Education & Health policies, until he retired in June 2007: hand-tying of Brown into Blairite policies. Policies that Blair knew would work. (The Tories had already accepted them.)
After being inspired, if that’s the word, to jot down a mini bodice-ripper after the churlishness of a Telegraph writer earlier – “Tony Blair’s fatal flaw”. You won’t believe this… – my hopes for journalistic analysis and simple fairness have been raised, a touch anyway.
Edmund Conway, Economics Editor of The Telegraph newspapers and website, has this real gem at his blog: “A Prime Minister who knows something about the economy?” His post has a question mark. Mine hasn’t.
Mr Conway says (in his sufficiently accurate quote from this Labour MP):
Here’s a quote – see if you can guess who said it and when:
“The real problem we’re left with is that we now have an economy which is so locked in to international trading, so dependent on what happens in America, that anything that happens in Wall Street reverberates around the world. Now the key lesson that we’ve got to take out of this is the necessity for governments of any political colour to work together to stop the excesses of the free market, because that’s what’s really been shown over the last few days.”
Mr Conway continues –
“I’ll put you out of your misery – it was none other than a very young-looking Tony Blair in 1987, just after the Black Monday crash, which obliterated prices on Wall Street. I wonder if he ever looks back and agonises about why he chose not to heed his own words?
It’s only the first half of this four and a half-minute video, but, yes, he does look YOUNG. And all that thick hair! A mere child, and yet he was 34 and he still makes George Osborne, the present Shadow Chancellor, now almost 39, sound like a foetus. (If you can imagine what a foetus sounds like!) Personally I have no idea. But it can’t have a wide economic vocabulary.
Mr Conway goes on –
“I hadn’t realised Blair was Shadow City Minister early on in his career, but the clip is a reminder that our former PM did have one or two of his own economic views (some of them pretty sensible – I don’t think he comes across that badly in the clip – do you?) but that they were so comprehensively wrestled into the background during his time in office.
I imagine that Mr Blair regrets quite a few things about his early years as party leader and then Prime Minister.
- The first regret being that he didn’t insist on a ballot between himself and Brown for the leadership in 1994.
- The second that he wouldn’t shift Brown from his stranglehold over the Treasury in his first round of Cabinet shuffles.
- The third that he thought he shouldn’t after the second election landslide in 2001.
- The fourth that he couldn’t by 2005.
“In fact, according to some documents teased out of the Treasury by PricedOut – a volunteer group campaigning over the lack of decent housing policy for first-time buyers – it turns out Blair was rather more worried about the state of the economy than you might have thought. So concerned was the PM back in 2004 that the housing market was turning into a bubble that he asked the Treasury for a full briefing note (in fact he was prompted by an FT column by Martin Wolf, warning: “Nobody knows when the bust will come. But come, I believe, it will”.)
Wow! In 2004 Blair was worried? And Brown wasn’t? Amazing. Clearly we all now realise that Brown was far too powerful, and was trying to maintain the status quo until he got hold of the reins. Then when he finally grabbed control, the economy DID collapse, the USA housing market being his “get-out-of-jail” card. So NOW what do we uninspired voters do? Hold onto Nurse?
Conway again –
“Now, it probably isn’t a surprise to hear that the Treasury dismissed this view in its document, which PricedOut has attained under a Freedom of Information request. But I was surprised by the length of the document (eight chunky pages) and throughout its length a sheer unwillingness to countenance the possibility that the housing market would crash. It underlines the simple fact that the Treasury under Gordon Brown was blind to the possibility that things could go horribly wrong – even within the confines of Downing Street. It turns out no-one was allowed to challenge the “end to boom and bust” trope – even Tony Blair himself.”
Blair may well have been challenging Brown for all we know. Remember the party had been behind Brown since around 2001, and many of them before that. That was the Sword of Damacles hanging over Blair and one reason he couldn’t shift Brown. That does NOT mean that he did not try.
I think there is a lot we don’t know and may not know for decades, if ever.
Mr Blair was not the only one who thought the housing and debt market were bound to implode. Some of us argued against this economic dependency when Margaret Thatcher was handing money out hand-over-fist through MIRAS, and in subsequent years when we were inundated with “no questions asked” credit cards.
Like immigration and other issues whose holes we are now picking over, it didn’t all happen in 1997. The rot had set in years, even decades before. Some of us have longer memories. We even go back to before history, I mean Blair.
The idea that we, here in Britain, could turn around the liner and say, “stop the world, I want to get off” is facile. It would never have worked, even if Mr Blair had become Chancellor and Mr Brown had become Prime Minister in 1997.
And can you imagine that scenario? We’d likely have had one term of Labour, as Brown would not have impressed the country or even his party in relation to his articulate and far more presentable ‘Chancellor’, Tony Blair.
We’d have had a new Conservative government in 2001, under, probably, Iain Duncan Smith. We’d still have had 9/11, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, led in Britain by the ‘Quiet Man’, IDS, a staunch supporter of Blair’s Iraq position, but thought ineffective by this own Tory party. A Tory win in 2001 would possibly have seen the continuance of his leadership rather than his replacement by Michael Howard. In the event Howard replaced IDS in November 2003.
‘Support for Labour has slipped two points over the past month to 35 per cent. Apart from the fuel protest month of September 2000, the last time Labour support was this low was in 1992.’
Do you remember that? When it was a LOW for Labour to be polling at 35%? What would they give for that today as the election closes in? (See history chart of opinion polls from June 2005.)
But with the country’s anti-Iraq war elements increasing in volume after 9/11, by 2005 Labour would have portrayed itself as “the conscience of the nation” and would likely have been returned to office.
Tony Blair would have been the newish kid on the block, ready to seize the mantle from Brown as PM. And we would then have had a prime minister without a so-called black mark next to his name. He’d have had a clean sheet with an internally and externally beaten Gordon Brown unable to breathe down his neck.
How different might have been all of our fortunes in that case.
Of course we’d still have had the housing collapse of 2007/2008 in the USA. No British Chancellor could have prevented that. Whatever else we can blame on Brown, and I blame a lot on him as regulars will know, HE did not cause the meltdown in the British economy.
A recap of modern political history:
– 1992: Neil Kinnock loses dramatically to John Major’s Tories. Young Gordon Brown elected to Dunfermline east, Fife, Scotland, and tipped to be future Labour leader.
– 1994: John Smith suffers heart attack, and Gordon robbed of the crown by the young and ambitious Tony Blair.
– 1997: Tony Blair sweeps to power in a landslide. Gordon allegedly promised complete control over economic policy at No 11, where the alleged deal took place two or so years before.
– 2007: Tony Blair steps down. Gordon takes over, unchallenged, unelected. He bottles out of calling an election.
-2010: Gordon is still waiting to be officially ‘elected’ British Prime minister. Only 27 days to go until he finds out whether he’s the first British politician to have unofficially held the keys to Downing Street without a mandate. The Michael Heseltine of the Labour Party…
1. Interesting and true. ‘Brown never seized the moment.’
As the Director illustrates in the film through a great narrative timeline, Gordon has always suffered from bad-timing and bad luck. But, on the other hand, you’ve got to seize your opportunities when they come. Gordon didn’t.
[Ed: Nor, or at least not always, did Tony.]
2. MANDELSON THINKS BROWN WILL STRUGGLE AGAINST CAMERON IN TV DEBATES
‘Meanwhile, The Times has learnt that Lord Mandelson has confided to Labour campaign staff that he fears Mr Brown will struggle to keep within set time limits in the first televised election debate on Thursday.
All three leaders have agreed to keep initial answers to questions to under 60 seconds with another minute allowed to respond to opponents. “Mandelson thinks Brown won’t be able to manage that,” said a Labour strategist. “It’s not a format that’s going to help him show off his command of detail. We just have to live with that.”
Mr Brown cancelled a planned trip to Washington this week partly to make more time to practise for the event in Manchester.’
RECENT POSTS HERE
- “Tony Blair’s Fatal Flaw.” You won’t believe this …
- Dear, dear, dear Archbishop of Canterbury – In the Name of God, Go!
- Tony Blair says: we CAN win ‘the fight of our lives’
- Rory Bremner’s backfiring joke on Tony Blair. But did Rory realise it?
- Adam Lang IS Tony Blair. So, will Cherie sue Polanski & Harris?
- General Election confirmed – Tony Blair’s birthday, 6th May 2010
- NEW!… No, REALLY NEW, New Labour poster
- John Rentoul & Anne McElvoy on Channel 4 (videos): Tony Blair at Trimdon
- A quick glance through The Daily Maul – I mean – Mail
- Hooray! Tony Blair is One Million Pounds Poorer
Tags: Blairism, Brown is becoming Blair, crash, economics, Edmund Conway, Eonomics Editor, financial crisis, from Gordon Brown, Gordon Brown, housing market, knows about the economy, PM, telegraph, Tony Blair, video, youtube