Tuesday 21 October 2008

Please stick to the day job, Tom

I am still reeling from the shock I received on opening yesterday’s Journal and reading the first line of Tom Gutteridge’s column, which announced that he was giving up TV production. Surely Cilla Black’s eagerly awaited Loveland could not be destined for the great lumber room of televisual might-have-beens?

Then I read on and realised that it was one of those meaningless rhetorical flourishes beloved of certain columnists and public speakers, like Gordon Brown boasting every week for 11 years that he had abolished boom and bust.

This towering genius had apparently torn up the normal rules of economics and led us onto the broad, sunlit uplands of ever-increasing prosperity for all. Only that scenario now proves to have been a cruel delusion, built on dangerously unstable mountains of public and private debt. In the circumstances, surely a little schadenfreude is permissible?

The contention that Gordon Brown bears no responsibility for current events is simply risible. This was the Iron Chancellor, the control freak who held all the reins of domestic power under Tony Blair and was credited with delivering a decade of steady growth and low inflation. But who, in reality, laid the foundations for the present crisis by creating a new and patently inadequate system of financial regulation, massively increasing public spending and racking up huge amounts of dodgy off-balance-sheet debt.

How can anyone refer disparagingly to “Cameron’s City cronies” when Labour has been every bit as close to the financial sector since the “prawn cocktail offensive” of the early 1990s, and has famously derived much of its funding from “fat cats”? This is the party whose new Business Secretary Peter Mandelson announced a decade ago that Labour was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” and which has duly presided over a massive widening of the gap between rich and poor.

To blame Mrs Thatcher for all this is like putting the research scientists who first split the atom on trial for causing the devastation unleashed on Hiroshima. Yes, she established the initial framework of economic liberalism and, having lived through the unbelievably depressing era of Heath, Wilson and Callaghan in the 1970s, I remain intensely grateful that she did.

But Tony Blair and Gordon Brown came to power in 1997 with a massive majority and the capacity to reshape British society in the way that Attlee did after the landslide of 1945. Instead they simply grabbed the reins of the Tory chariot and drove it ever faster to destruction. Mr Blair will indeed go down in history, but as the man who squandered a massive opportunity and led his country into two avoidable and unwinnable wars.

Mr Brown might yet win a more interesting footnote by finally fulfilling the hard left dream of nationalising the banks. Though I suspect that he will be marked down a touch for doing so in defiance of all his declared principles, just as the Conservatives received zero credit for the impressive economic recovery they engineered after the collapse of their core policy on Black Wednesday in 1992.

You would have to be a much more dedicated Tory than I am to claim that the boys Dave and George have covered themselves in glory during the present crisis. Nor do I have any answers of my own. Though since my trade is based on common sense, I am naturally suspicious when the Government announces that the only way out of the deep hole caused by excessive borrowing and spending is for it to spend and borrow even more.

Perhaps Gordon Brown will indeed call and win a snap election based on his handling of recent events. But, if he does, it will be as massive an injustice as an arsonist winning the George Medal for trying to save the victims of one of his own conflagrations.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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