Monday, 16 February 2009

A lifeboat for Gordon

As Kipling might have recast his recipe for success, had he been thinking of politics, "If you can keep your job when all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you..." Gordon Brown is clinging on for dear life, but the polls are terrible (for him) and likely to get worse. And as it becomes clear that he did not, after all, save the world, or even HBOS (though he did manage to wreck Lloyds), as he continues to refuse to apologise, the mutterings within his own ranks have begun again.

In political parties at times of crisis, the delusion usually takes hold that everything can be redeemed by the simple expedient of changing the leader. I'm not a natural Brownophobe, and I still maintain Gordon is not wholly to blame for the situation in which we now find ourselves as a nation. Tony Blair shares the responsibility. So do they all. But that's scarcely the point any more: he's finished, Labour is finished, and quite possibly the whole country is finished, too, at least for more years to come than most of us would wish to contemplate. Leadership manoeuvres and reports of leadership manoeuvres provide, for a while at least, satisfying displacement activities. But how to get rid of him?

Jackie Ashley has heard a rumour, a story "doing the rounds among a few senior Labour people at Westminster". At the grand G20 summit in April - the choice of London as a venue is rather like hosting a conference on the future of cross-Atlantic travel on board the Titanic - it will be agreed by all concerned that Something Must Be Done. And that something may well involve "the need for a new global financial regulator". Apparently Angela Merkel thinks that Gordon Brown would be the ideal person to head this new international body. "she is said to be quietly pushing the idea behind the scenes and getting quite a good reaction from other leaders". That famous German sense of humour, perhaps.

Allegedly, this tidbit "comes from quite close to the inner core". Can she mean Mandelson? Or Ed Balls? Ooh, Jackie, you tease. [Apparently it might be Harriet Harman. But does she really count as well-informed?]

There is a flaw in this plan so obvious that even Ms Ashley has noticed it:

After the events of the past few weeks, culminating in the Lloyds-HBOS fiasco, Brown's CV as financial regulator is - how shall we put it? - looking a little tarnished. It was meant to be a brilliant coup, keeping both banks in the private sector, limiting taxpayer exposure and showing Brown's deft use of private contacts. That isn't how it looks now.

The trouble goes rather deeper than that, though, doesn't it? It was the regulatory decisions Gordon Brown made in his early days as chancellor that have led directly to the current disaster. As HBOS whistleblower Paul Moore put it yesterday, "The failure goes right to the heart of the system - to the internal supervisory system and right to the top of government."

There's also the years of dodgy accounting and rampant overspending that have, for little obvious benefit, left the public finances looking like the balance sheet of RBS.

Moore put it perfectly:

Brown swaggers around holding himself out as the economic saviour of the world with a level of hubris that defies belief. But does he ever acknowledge that it was he, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, who presided functionally over the economic strategy that got us into this mess in the first place?

It was Moore's offence, as the head of risk assessment, in drawing attention to the precarious finances of HBOS that led the bank's CEO Sir James Crosby to dismiss him. Crosby was then appointed as deputy chairman of the Farcical Services Authority, presumably by an identical process of logic that would lead to Brown being appointed as global panjandrum of regulation. Except that in Crosby's case he got his official position before everyone realised he had destroyed his own bank.

And even allowing for his failure to regulate the British financial system properly (perhaps the idea is he will have learned from experience) Brown hardly seems to have the personality to handle such a diplomatically sensitive role.

Such objections are, though, rather beside the point. Gordon Brown might be the worst possible person for the job, but he has a number of clear advantages.

- He needs what Ashley calls a "lifeboat".

- He's a politician, and these jobs always go to politicians.

- It would enable him to continue being influential even after he has been eased out of office.

- According to Ashley, Nicolas Sarkozy would find it a convenient way of getting Brown out the way. This, of course, implies that it is pretty much a non-job.

- And let's face it, he isn't going to out-earn tony Blair or Bill Clinton on the international speech circuit

There is, though, a potential problem with the scenario. Blair, it has also been strongly hinted, wants to be the first president of Europe. The Guardian recently reported that he is "increasingly willing to put himself forward for the job if it comes with real powers to intervene in defence and trade affairs". So while Blair is running the EU, Brown will be reconstructing the global financial system. Between them, they will Save the World. Or perhaps they'll go back to feuding, like they always used to. What they between them did to Britain, they will do to the entire planet. Are the rest of the world's leaders really prepared to let that happen?


RavingMad said...

It's not a bloody lifeboat Gordon needs, it's a straitjacket.

Why should any of us have to put up with anymore of this drivel.

I've just heard about Bliar getting a prize of $1 dollars for efforts in leadership. It makes me ill - these people are getting away with MURDER.

Olive said...

So while Blair is running the EU, Brown will be reconstructing the global financial system....

That's a scary thought. It would be like Cloverfield, but with 100 foot tall versions of the Chuckle Brothers in the place of the monster.

Waltz said...

I have my doubts about Ashley's claim that Merkel said this. The only source I've seen seems to be Jackie Ashley and her unnamed "sources". I very much doubt that Merkel said anything of the sort - particularly as she and her finance minister rather famously ridiculed Brown's rescue plans not so very long ago. My guess is that either Merkel was having a bit of fun or else she never said it at all and certain "sources" are having a bit of fun with Jackie Ashley.

Brown and Labour are certainly finished. Hopefully Britain isn't though! We may get leaner and meaner but I think we'll pull through.