Posts Tagged ‘gordon brown’

“Incompetence” is the most dangerous word in politics. Boris beware

20/08/2020, 10:45:53 PM

by David Talbot

In the Autumn of 2007, a resurgent Labour Party, galvanised by Gordon Brown’s elevation to Number Ten, met in Bournemouth buoyant at the prospect of an early general election. Under the banner ‘The strength to succeed’ Brown had spent the first few months of his ultimately doomed premiership reassuring the nation. From donning his wellies in flooded, predominantly Conservative-dwelling, shires, to soothing the nation following terrorist attacks in Glasgow and London, Brown’s early brand was based on solidity and, most of all, competence.

The problem of creeping incompetence usually arises towards the end of a government’s life, when Ministers are tired and a smell of decay whiffs through the air. But this government has developed a competence problem after merely a year in office.

COVID-19 was not, of course, the design of Boris Johnson’s government but its response to it has been lamentable and incompetent in the extreme. It squandered two precious months to prepare the nation, its much vaunted “world beating” track and trace system is a disgrace, it failed to protect frontline NHS staff through the heat of the pandemic, and it turned the nation’s care homes into breeding grounds for a disease whose mortality is intertwined with those aged 65 years and above.

From surcharges for migrant NHS workers, school meal vouchers for the nation’s most vulnerable schoolchildren to levelling down students’ futures, this government has exuded wanton incompetence in every nuance of an increasingly desperate defences. Even on its flagship raison d’être, Brexit, its “oven ready” deal has been strangely aloof since it was lauded every day for two months late last year.

Johnson’s limitations have been well-known and widespread for years; his disorganisation, his lack of attention to detail, his bluster and bumbling incompetence. In politics, if you take an ideological stance it will always mean you lose someone. But develop a reputation for incompetence, and you lose everybody.

And it is on this ground that Sir Keir Starmer has staked his early strategy. Through demonstrating competence, severely lacking for years under the previous administration, Labour has at last emerged as a serious party determined on seeking power. It is easy to see why this attribute is so important to Labour, not only as a core prerequisite for any party seeking power, but through polling – such as the Observer last month on the perceptions of the two party’s leaders:

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10 years ago Gordon Brown launched Labour’s general election campaign in the home counties. Keir Starmer’s job is to make that realistic again

10/04/2020, 08:30:17 AM

by David Talbot

Ten years ago this week, in a break with tradition, Gordon Brown strode out from No 10 with his Cabinet lined up behind him and addressed the nation. The then worse kept secret in politics, that the country would go to the polls on May 6, was announced and Brown immediately sped off to the home counties – back when Labour held such seats – to begin his campaign for a fourth Labour term.

Labour’s clear intention that day was to portray the strength of the party’s top team, compared to that of the perceived lightweight Conservatives.

Prime Ministers usually like to claim all the spotlight when calling an election, and the Conservatives, quite rightly in riposte, pointed out that the tactic highlighted how, unlike most leaders, Gordon Brown was clearly not seen nor portrayed by Labour as their strongest card.

Ten years on, and three leaders later, Labour’s latest leadership contest was long on process and short on suspense. The commanding victory for Sir Keir Starmer, which avoided the razor-thin margin of 2010, or the factionalism of 2015 and 2017, provides stability at the top of the party arguably not seen since the halcyon days of 2007 when the prospect of an early election closed Labour’s ranks.

Starmer has already brought some much-needed dignity to his position. The early strokes of his leadership are at once encouraging, but when pitted against such a pitiful predecessor, objective analysis becomes ever more difficult. He has been bequeathed a party left in appalling health; not just electorally, but exhausted, riddled with division, tormented over its past and unsure of its future.

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What became of Gordon Brown’s likely lads?

12/11/2019, 08:31:11 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Gordon Brown, then chancellor, was travelling on an RAF flight when he found out that Ed Miliband had been selected as Labour’s candidate in Doncaster, according to Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre’s biography of Jeremy Corbyn’s predecessor as Labour leader.

“Brown was seen in a rare moment of real joy, punching the air as if his local football team had just won the FA Cup, and punching it so hard that his hand hit the luggage compartment above his head with a crunch.”

Brown was also pleased when Ian Austin and John Woodcock, like Miliband ex Brown aides, were selected as Labour candidates. Now, after the Tories have reversed the public spending that Brown increased, deepened the poverty that Brown tackled, and sought a Brexit that Brown resisted, Austin and Woodcock advise voting Tory.

After all that the Tories have done, to return them to Downing Street would not just rub salt in the wounds, it would invite their deepening.

Nothing about Boris Johnson’s campaign launch made sense. We were meant to believe that it was in a crowded hall in Birmingham; it was in a half-full one in Solihull. He insists he wants to get Brexit “done”; he will have it drag on, pulling the UK apart, country-by-country, business-by-business, family-by-family. He wants to unleash the UK’s potential; that will be forestalled by the monstrous distraction that he wants to get “done”.

Of course, it is not reverence for Johnson that drives Austin and Woodcock but deep suspicion of Corbyn. Phil Collins, writing speeches for Tony Blair when Brown was punching luggage compartments, last week categorised Labour MPs in The Times based upon their feelings towards Corbyn.

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With each passing week, McDonnell becomes more like Brown to Corbyn’s Blair

07/01/2019, 10:41:33 PM

by David Talbot

In September 2015 Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party, was finishing his first speech to the party faithful. Embracing the mandate for change, Corbyn, with a wry nod halfway through, noted that “things can – and they will – change”. In the preceding three years, via an internal challenge and a general election, the nature of the Labour Party has been transformed in his image. Corbyn was of course in part elected, twice, as Labour leader precisely because he represented a riposte to the previous Labour governments and to, of course, the loathed Tony Blair. However, an aspect of the duopoly which so dominated the party throughout its years in government is set to be replicated, ironically, by those who have dedicated the most to repudiating him, his image and his governments.

John McDonnell was not a universally welcomed appointment when Corbyn gave his longstanding comrade the position of Shadow Chancellor over three years ago. The antipathy reached its peak during the botched leadership challenge to Corbyn during 2016, when murmurs reached a crescendo that his departure was desperately needed to restore some semblance of party unity. The fiery, left-wing firebrand made enemies in his own party as easily as amongst the Conservatives, his reputation as a deeply divisive and electorally poisonous figure seemingly cemented.

The scepticism extended as far as Corbyn’s innermost circle, who grew to distrust the Shadow Chancellor – an opinion also widely held amongst the trade unions who had dealt with him for decades. In his early throes he actively coveted controversy and attrition, from his ‘communist salute’ at the 2015 party conference to labelling Labour moderates “fucking useless” in their cack-handed attempts to dispose the new Labour leader. Since then, a transition has begun as ambitious and calculated as the work of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to transform the electoral prospects of a moribund party in the mid-1990s.

And it is to these two towering figures of the last chapter of the Labour Party that is becoming ever more prevalent for the new, Corbyn-led, chapter. The rivalry and trench warfare, often for the sheer sake of it, that came to characterise the then Labour leader and his Chancellor is fracturing into the open between Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor. Over the summer, when Labour descended into a bitter dispute over anti-Semitism, it was the Shadow Chancellor, through the pages of the Times no less, that organ of the establishment, who made it known that he disapproved of Corbyn’s handling of the sorry saga. As to with the terrorist incident in Salisbury, where McDonnell, not Corbyn, voiced support for the security services and stated unequivocally it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible.

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The Tories don’t realise it yet but their conference was a disaster

06/10/2016, 09:09:59 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Jeremy Corbyn is busy with his reshuffle but the reality is that its a sideshow. The main event this week was in Birmingham with Theresa May’s first conference as Tory leader.

Party conferences share an important characteristic with Chancellors’ budgets – the better the immediate headlines, the worse the legacy.

Last year, George Osborne’s post-election budget was heralded as a masterstroke the day after it was delivered, only to unravel over tax credits.

Ed Miliband’s commitment to fix energy prices at Labour’s 2013 conference was viewed as a game-changing moment on the day. But in reality, it fed the public’s mistrust of Labour and markets contributing to disaster at the general election.

Gordon Brown’s 2007 conference debut as leader won instant plaudits (“Brown dressed to kill after emptying Cameron’s wardrobe” proclaimed the Guardian) that subsequently dissolved. Rather like his last budget as Chancellor earlier in 2007 when he abolished the 10p tax.

Or for those with longer memories, the glowing reports of Norman Lamont’s 1992 budget foreseeing the green shoots of recovery the best part of a decade before the public agreed.

The headlines this morning following Theresa May’s big speech were all that she would want. But she’s actually had a disaster.

Long after the conference bubbles have gone flat, two bitter flavours will linger on the palate: hard Brexit and the Tory obsession with foreigners.

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Cameron’s resignation spells trouble for May

13/09/2016, 09:50:58 PM

by David Ward

It’s fair to say May hasn’t been tested so far.

With Labour trapped in a spiral of decline part demographic, part self inflicted, her real threat comes from her own benches.

She has an unenviable in-tray. Brexit, a large deficit with an economy stuck in first gear, growing unease with establishment parties, and growing pressure to make a real difference on housebuilding.

Readers of Uncut may well feel some of these are of the Conservative party’s own making. Nevertheless, her challenge is to deal with them while keeping a wafer thin majority intact.

Of course, as Echo and the Bunnymen advised us, nothing ever lasts forever. And you can usually tell what will bring a Prime Minister down before it happens. From David Cameron’s fondness for a gamble to Thatcher’s unshakeable belief in her own ideas.

Cameron’s resignation yesterday is a neat example of one of May’s looming problems. Her hasty clearout of the Cameroons and their ideas. Having made enemies amongst the left of her party, May must curry favour with the right, whose darlings include Liam Fox and David Davis.

Yet this only opens up arguments with former ‘modernisers’.

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John McDonnell and George Osborne: Two faces of Gordon Brown

19/04/2016, 10:56:55 AM

by Jonathan Todd

John McDonnell is bringing to mind the Gordon Brown of the 1992 parliament, while George Osborne is coming to appear the Brown of the 2005 parliament. Where Brown had neo-endogenous growth theory, McDonnell has an entrepreneurial state; both have public investment at their core. Where the later Brown had 10p tax, Osborne has tax credits; too clever by half missteps by Stalins transfiguring into Mr Beans.

“Business investment is falling,” McDonnell noted in a speech last month. “Exports are falling. The productivity gap between Britain and the rest of the G7 is the widest it has been for a generation. Without productivity growth, we cannot hope, over the long term, to improve living standards for most people.”

It is a powerful critique, grounded not in the overthrow of capitalism but in making it work more efficiently. Notwithstanding their divergent accents, you can close your eyes and imagine Brown, as shadow chancellor, castigating the Major government. Or more recently, Ed Balls attacking the Cameron administration.

The fiscal rule that McDonnell espoused in his speech might be interpreted as a crisper version of that which Balls took Labour into the last election with. The practical consequences of the McDonnell and Balls fiscal rules may be little different but McDonnell more explicitly backs capital spending.

“We believe,” McDonnell declared, “that governments should not need to borrow to fund their day-to-day spending.” This hawkish position on current spending contrasts with a more dovish approach to capital spending. “Alongside this, we recognise the need for investment which raises the growth rate of our economy by increasing productivity as well as stimulating demand in the short term.”

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Corbyn’s incompetence almost makes you feel sorry for the hard left

01/04/2016, 06:29:15 PM

by Samuel Dale

Last month, George Osborne delivered one of the most shambolic budgets in years.

Just days before he announced it, he pulled a massive u-turn on his headline policy by scrapping long held plans to reform pensions tax relief.

He didn’t want to risk the ire of Tory MPs during the EU referendum campaign.

It left a massive hole in the budget that was quickly filled with large cuts to disability benefits. A shocking cut that would have affected thousands of the most vulnerable people in Britain.

Just hours later he U-turned on the disability cuts too.

Then Iain Duncan Smith resigned as DWP secretary blasting government cuts and Osborne personally.

The disability cuts u-turn has left a giant hole in the budget. The Red Book does not add up for the first time in living memory.

Only Gordon Brown’s 10p income tax disaster comes close and that shambles scarred him forever.

Unbelievable budget incompetence comes as the Tories are involved in vicious splits over Europe with minister pitted against minister. Cameron v Boris. And every MP attacking everyone else.

In the midst of this chaos, Tata Steel announced they are planning to close their UK steel plants with as many as 40,000 jobs at risk.

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John McDonnell sheds his Corbynista cloak

29/09/2015, 09:50:06 AM

by Nick Small

For the 4.5 percenters, who, like me, backed Liz Kendall, John McDonnell’s first major speech as shadow chancellor at Labour Party conference was, in many ways, a pleasant surprise.

The acknowledgment of a golden rule of British politics, that the voting public demand reassurance from the centre-left about our economic credibility in a way that they don’t from the Tories, is welcome.   It’s also welcome that McDonnell has explicitly reinforced the message that economic prosperity and social justice are two sides of the same coin; as our aims and values put it that means ‘a dynamic economy serving the public interest’.  In other words, you can’t redistribute wealth unless you first create it.

Recognising that the country has to live within its means, that Labour should tackle the deficit fairly and that a Labour government inheriting a current account deficit in 2020 should pay it down without jeopardising sustainable economic growth is, again, good to hear.  It’s not austerity-lite and it’s not deficit denial.  This will chime well with the voters who’ll decide the next election.  They may well be more economically radical than many from my wing of the party thought, but they’re certainly more fiscally cautious than many Corbynistas gave them credit for.

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Osborne has laid the most obvious trap for Labour on tax credits. Will the party blunder in?

13/07/2015, 12:21:26 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Ten years since 7/7. Ten years since London won the Olympics. Ten years since Robin Cook was telling Labour party events that he was meeting people whose fortunes have been transformed by tax credits, but who don’t realise that they have the (then Labour) government to thank rather than some obscure administrative change at the Inland Revenue.

While the Labour government did good, Cook argued, it was not credited with having done it, as it was done by stealth. The tax credits architecture that Gordon Brown quietly built, and which helped the UK to an impressively robust employment performance, even after the financial crisis, was loudly dismantled in George Osborne’s Budget.

Where New Labour reassured business, while using state levers to redistribute with minimal fanfare, Ed Miliband was a Labour leader eager to have business do more. Whether Osborne would have found it harder to take an axe to tax credits if Labour had trumpeted them as bullishly as Cook preferred, as well as whether Osborne would have been in the position to do so had Miliband more assiduously courted business, are imponderables.

As Osborne warmly embraced Iain Duncan-Smith’s welfare reforms to declare himself the bringer of social justice and adopted a form of the predistribution beloved of Miliband by accompanying his dilution of tax credits with legislation for a claimed living wage, Labour’s attempt to come to terms with these unknowns is complicated by Tory cross-dressing.

In spite of events in Greece, the Budget, unlike in 2010, was pitched less as a bulwark against calamity and more as a staging post to better future. In which we are all invited to share. Reality may struggle to keep pace with the one nation rhetoric. Particularly when a tool for creating an income floor (the statutory minimum wage, which is what Osborne has raised through his supposed living wage) is deployed as a replacement for incentives to additional work (working tax credits).

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