Posts Tagged ‘gordon brown’

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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Don’t blame Cameron. A sitting PM would be mad to agree to TV debates

06/03/2015, 07:00:28 AM

The gap between being in opposition and government is thrown into sharp relief by the debate (squabble?) around televised election debates.

Don’t blame David Cameron for not wanting to have them. No sitting prime minister in his or her right mind would willingly choose to participate. The stakes are stacked against you from the start.

Most obviously, you are defending a record while the other participants are free to attack it.

What’s more, the prep time needed to brief a prime minister is massively greater than that needed to pick at their record.

For a leader more popular than his party, having Cameron grounded in London rehearsing how he defends his record across the board is wasted time for the Tories.

Prime ministers, even those as callow as David Cameron, appreciate that being in government is a complex business.

It’s made harder by the fact that a prime ministerial brain will be stacked full of the nuance of policy issues, making instant snappy rebuttals hard to craft on the hoof.

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Saint and sinner. Genius and villain. The many aspects of Gordon Brown

02/12/2014, 02:35:22 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Much has and will be written about Gordon Brown and about how he divides opinion both in British politics and, not least, in the party he once led. The many contradictions of his complex personality are already well chronicled.

A “moral compass” awkwardly spliced with low cunning. Big-hearted compassion for the poor matched with unrelenting brutality towards opponents. An expansive intellect married to occasional political stupidity.

At the root of it all, however, he was an outstanding social democrat, one of a select few Labour ministers – Bevan and Crosland spring to mind – who have left an indelible mark on British society.

He was undoubtedly Labour’s finest chancellor, using the role to rehydrate key public services, trebling spending on the NHS and doubling it for education. This alone will see his impact echo. But he also, for a time, brought about full employment and presided over the longest continuous period of growth since records began in the late 18th Century. Even his later failings to manage spending, against the vortex of the global banking crisis, will pale against his many achievements.

He was certainly our most political chancellor, using the office to pursue an unrelenting social democratic agenda in a way none of his Labour predecessors ever managed. Snowden, Dalton, Cripps, Gaitskell, Callaghan, Jenkins and Healy. Each of them found themselves at the mercy of events, implementing austerity measures in failing governments, dashing dreams and triggering internecine feuding in the process. Brown, for a good while at least, seemed to have mastered political alchemy.

“No more boom and bust” may seem a hollow boast now, but not when he used to make it. He made the whole of British politics believe it too. His intellectual dominance was, for most of his decade-long tenure as Chancellor, total. This explains why his Conservative opponents hated him so intensely, while admiring Blair.

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The No campaign will squeak home, but, really, it shouldn’t have been this close

18/09/2014, 07:00:12 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There are no perfect campaigns and while it’s a tad premature to start the post-mortem, you have to ask why Better Together ends this race wheezing and red-faced.

At the start of August it was leading Yes Scotland by 20 points. Yet despite superior assets in terms of money and foot soldiers, as well as existing relationships with the electorate, the multi-party No campaign has not been able to make these structural advantages count and that lead has melted away.  So it’s not just Gordon Brown biting his nails to the stump.

Majoring on technocratic arguments, Better Together has lacked emotional punch as well as good basic organisation. The evidence? Brown’s last-minute rescue operation promising “devo-max” after postal ballots had been sent to a fifth of the electorate. A panicked move that, to be properly effective, should have come weeks before. (As, indeed, should Brown, who was left on the subs bench for too long. His speech yesterday is described by Steve Richards in The Guardian as “mesmerising”).

So, in a spirit of evaluating why we are where we are and positing why we shouldn’t actually be here, let me offer the following:

1) It should never have been this close. Alistair Darling is fond of saying that he warned people it would go “down to the wire”. If, indeed, Darling was planning for a tight race then he has got this campaign wrong, strategically, from the very start. The aim should have been a thumping victory to close the issue down for good and avoid the so-called “neverendum”. If devolution in 1998 has given nearly half of Scots a taste for full independence just 15 years later, what sort of ratchet effect will “devo max” have on Scottish voters’ identity and sense of otherness in a few years’ time? If as many as 45 per cent of them vote for independence today, the matter will not rest. Make no mistake; we’ll be back here again within a decade.

2) Westminster should have been alive to the danger much earlier. Since 2010, there have been three secretaries of state for Scotland. Each of them, Danny Alexander, Michael Moore and Alistair Carmichael are Liberal Democrats. And each of them has been asleep at the wheel. The role should have been used to help counter the SNP’s advance in the Scottish Parliament. (It would be fascinating to see the Secretary of State’s diary entries between 2010 and 2014 because so little of value to this campaign seems to have been achieved in that time). Carmichael, especially, should have been galvanising the Cabinet to tee-up a more considered “devo max” offer much earlier, or, indeed, have that option put on the ballot paper.

3) The Tories have not delivered. Despite David Cameron’s heartfelt please to Scots in recent days, his party’s meltdown in Scotland in recent decades has meant that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has, incongruously, had limited purchase in this debate. That said, despite only having a single MP, half a million Scots still voted Conservative at the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections. Tory strategists should have spent the last few years cultivating this base and their party’s organisation for this very moment. Unfortunately, David Cameron’s detoxification of his party never included a meaningful attempt to regain a foothold in Scotland. (This is presumably why he surrendered the Scottish Office to the Lib Dems). (more…)

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Brownian big numbers don’t persuade anyone, so why does Labour keep announcing them

01/07/2014, 12:59:44 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Today, the disconnect between Labour’s approach to political communications and the general public was on full display.

To accompany the launch of the Adonis Growth Review, the topline of Labour’s story was that it would devolve up to £30bn of central government funding to new regional partnerships of local authorities.

The model of regional co-operation that Labour is advocating has had demonstrable results in Greater Manchester, where 7 North West local authorities are working well together. The incentive of greater devolution of funds from central government would surely prompt other areas to follow Greater Manchester’s lead.

As a policy, there is much to recommend today’s announcement. Which is why the way it has been packaged for the media is so depressing.

Gordon Brown was notorious for bludgeoning audiences with lists of gargantuan numbers to demonstrate his commitment to Schools-n-Hospitals. Notorious because, while these types of big numbers have a certain resonance within the Westminster bubble, they are positively off-putting for most voters.

I’m currently conducting a series of focus groups for the day job, looking at how people understand political messages. The topic we’re looking at specifically is immigration, but the findings are applicable to most political issues.

When confronted with a statistic, particularly a Brownian big number, there is typically a two stage response: “I don’t understand your number,” swiftly followed by, “I don’t trust your number.”

Dealing with the first response is comparatively straight-forward. It’s all about context.

Abstract statistics mean very little to voters. Cash numbers in the billions or percentage growth rates lack any practical resonance with peoples’ lives.  They tend to simply fade into the white noise of politicos’ stat chat.

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Its Labour’s fault there’s no-one as good as Salmond

24/04/2014, 10:08:10 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Alastair Darling has many qualities. He was an effective minister, a mainstay throughout Labour’s years in power and as Chancellor, he steered the economy through the worst recession since the 1930s, leaving behind a growing economy in 2010. He is widely respected and admired. But as a campaigner, he makes David Moyes look like Jose Mourinho.

He is so ill-suited to leading the cross-party campaign to galvanise Scots behind the simple proposition that they are “Better Together” with their kith and kin in the rest of the union that the No campaign against Scottish independence looks set to snatch defeat from the jaws of what should, on paper, be an easy victory.

Yet a vote for independence is now a real possibility – with a poll last weekend putting the Yes campaign just three per cent behind the No campaign, a once unthinkable prospect. (To put this in context, a poll last November had the No camp leading by a margin of 29 per cent).

This is a calamitous situation with the polling numbers now starting to reflect what is all too evident to anyone watching this referendum battle unfold: The Westminster class has badly underestimated Alex Salmond.

Frankly, it has paid too little attention to Caledonian affairs in general in recent years, wrongly assuming the devolution settlement of 1998 was the end of the line as far as Scottish nationhood goes. This has left opponents of independence with a strategic problem. There is simply no equivalent Scottish figure now able to make the case for retaining the Union with the same panache Salmond displays in trying to break it up.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the UK and leader of the most swivel-eyed pro-Union party in British politics, can barely open his mouth on the subject without sending undecided voters flocking towards the independence camp.

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, southern English and middle-class are clearly deemed surplus to requirements and have the good sense to stay out of it. Labour’s Scottish Leader, Johann Lamont, is tough and said to get under Salmond’s skin, but she is a provincial figure in comparison.

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Brown’s call for greater devolution to Scotland should apply to the English regions too

11/03/2014, 02:23:38 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The only thing better than a five-point plan is, of course, a ten-point plan. However, on this occasion, Gordon Brown can be forgiven for only making it to six with his interesting ideas for modernising the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

In a bid to flesh out what a ‘devo max’ agenda might mean (or perhaps that should be ‘indy lite?’) the former Prime Minister recommends beefing-up the Scottish Parliament’s tax-raising powers, enshrining in law the settlement between Scotland and the UK and establishing a new division of powers that gives Holyrood more clout over employment, regeneration, health and transport.

But why stop at Scotland? So welcome are Brown’s suggestions that they should also be replicated between Westminster and Whitehall (‘WaW’) and the midlands and north of England. This is because the concentration of all major decision-making power in WaW entrenches the asymmetrical way power is exercised in Britain (particularly England) leading to the soaraway success of London and the less certain progress of pretty much everywhere else.

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