The Economist thinks that it was a dishonest, politicking effort. It’s hard to disagree.
The wheel of fortune turns swiftly in politics. Gordon Brown pulled off the G20 meeting in London on April 2nd, emerging with a plausible aura of global statesmanship. After a handful of Labour sleaze stories and a misguided statement on YouTube, the prime minister looked more like Richard Nixon: shifty, angry and with a list of enemies to smear. And that was before a downright dishonest budget on April 22nd.
The budget was a crucial one, for two reasons. First, Mr Brown is running out of time—he has to hold an election by June 2010—and Britain seems increasingly fed up with him. The public regards his party with distaste (see article). That’s partly because a dozen years in power tends to tarnish: when the home secretary’s husband charges the taxpayer for the porn he watches, one gets an inkling that a government’s time is up. But it’s also because of Mr Brown’s character. His strength, which the G20 meeting displayed, is dour pragmatism. Too often, though, he resorts to tribal politics, in a way that seems both scheming and incompetent.
Second, the budget marks the government’s attempts to deal with the fiscal consequences of the worst slowdown since the second world war. Mr Brown is partly to blame for this mess, but crisis management should have played to his strengths; instead, it revealed his worst side…
I’ve always thought that the key factor has little or nothing to do with politics. The British electorate isn’t much interested in politics, but when a regime has been in power for a while the public simply gets bored with it. And when that happens, the game is up.
Tony Blair always thought that Brown would be a disaster as Prime Minister (see The Homburg Factor), and in that at least he turns out to have been right. I’ve never met Brown, but he’s always seemed fishy. What’s especially creepy is all that sanctimonious crap about being “a son of the Manse”, as if somehow that elevated him onto a higher moral plane than the rest of us — not to mention the rest of the political class. The Damien McBride episode exposed this moralistic posturing for what it was — hypocritical baloney. McBride has been close to Brown for years. Everyone who ever came into contact with McB knew what he was like. Brown not only knew, but obviously approved — otherwise why would he have kept him on (and brought him with him to Number Ten)?
The ubiquitous commentator Will Hutton has done a two-part TV documentary for Dispatches on how the financial crisis happened. The first part was screened last night, and although it’s clear that Hutton is riding his own hobby-horse (i.e. the view that the British government and regulators proved deeply incompetent when it came to the crunch), his film did include three toe-curling video clips.
The first shows Brown, newly-installed as Chancellor, explaining smugly to the House of Commons how his shiny new tripartite system for ‘light’ regulation of the banking system was a world beater — while, behind him, Tony Blair smirks complacently on the government front bench. The second clip shows Brown giving his first speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet and sucking up in a nauseating way to the assembled members of the City elite. The final clip shows him opening the London office of Lehman Brothers: he unveils a plaque and then begins fawning on Richard Fuld, CEO of the bank and arguably the creepiest-looking dude since Boris Karloff hung up his mask. What these clips illustrate above all is the extent to which Brown was in awe of the soi-disant ‘masters of the universe’. They should be on a permanent loop. Perhaps they already are — on YouTube.