Gordon Brown's first year

You may not have noticed, but we have a Prime Minister. His name is Gordon Brown, and he’s been Prime Minister for exactly a year. He was never elected prime minister; he and Tony Blair had a bit of chinwag at a restaurant ten years ago, and it was decided that when Tony stepped down, Gordon would take over.

Gordon has been, to put it mildly, a bit of a problem. His first problem is him, or more precisely his personality, or even more precisely his lack of a personality. He is unable to make up his mind or to put together coherent policies.

Things started out inauspiciously. At the Labour Party conference, Gordon speech was dull and uninspiring. In contrast to that, at the Conservative party conference, David Cameron’s speech, made completely without reference to notes, was a tour de force of public speaking.

In the early days of his leadership, Gordon dealt well with two major problems: flooding, and terrorist attacks. He appeared calm and steadfast. His standing in the polls was high. But that was to be the peak of his achievements.

His first blow was when he couldn’t make up his mind whether or not to hold a general election. He was well ahead in the polls, but he dithered. First he said he would, and and then he said he wouldn’t. He just lost his nerve. From there, things continued on a downward slide. Despite the public’s perception of him as being weak and feeble, in private he has an explosive temper, which helped to fuel tantrums in 10 Downing St.

Next up was the Northern Rock crisis – the first run on a British bank or the century. Then discs containing data on 25 million people were lost by HM Revenue and Customs. Mr Brown couldn’t make up his mind whether to do or not to sign the Lisbon Treaty so in an embarrassing compromise decided to sign it on his own a day after everyone else. All the while, his ratings in the polls were sliding dramatically. He was getting a hammering in House of Commons. Vincent Cable, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said he had gone “from Stalin to Mr Bean.” Within his own party he was described as “acting like a scared rabbit” and that he had scored “spectacular own goals.” Lord Desai, the Labour peer, said Mr Brown “was put on earth to remind people how good Tony Blair was”.

Gordon Brown had, in the previous budget, decided to abolish the starting rate of tax of 10p in the pound. This disenfranchised a large section of the poorer community. This was followed quickly by local elections, where Labour was punished heavily. It suffered its worst performance for 40 years, losing more than 300 council seats and attaining just 24% of the total vote.

Recently, Gordon Brown has committed himself to extending holding suspects without trial to 42 days. To do this, he had to (allegedly) bribe members of other parties. Whether or not it it is necessary to extend it to 42 days is debatable, but Gordon’s method of achieving the result he wanted can only be seen as grubby.

History shows that no party leader has ever recovered from such opinion poll doldrums to win the subsequent election.

So, how did we get lumbered with Gordon Brown? How much worse can it get? And, while I don’t want to sound remotely sympathetic, how must he be feeling? How can anyone put up with the constant battering he gets? To be known publicly as being completely inept and unpopular must be devastating for him. How does he cope with it? I’ve often wondered how people, like George Bush, who are universally disliked, personally cope with their unpopularity.

Labour’s 5th place in last night’s byelection was a real eye-opener. When the party of government is finishing behind the margin-walkers of society like the Greens and the BNP, (losing its deposit for fuck’s sake!), then they clearly have a major, major problem.

I like Gordon Brown, which probably puts me in a very small minority in the UK, but wouldn’t take particular issue with anything you posted. His volcanic temper is a myth, according to Michael White in the Guardian yesterday, but it’s futile asking for evidence as it’s difficult to prove either way. The bottom line is that he appears to the electorate like he probably does have a furious temper, which just adds to his unpopularity.

He is just a PM after his time in politics. He cannot perform for the media, so he is totally sunk. Substance, capability, intellect - it doesn’t matter much when you can’t even say Hello to a bloke carrying the olympic flame without looking like a bollox. So we have the unfortunate irony of the OP, and the rest of the UK, perceiving Brown to be inept when he is the most capable and driven individual in UK politics by orders of magnitude.

As far as how bad are things going to get, on the one hand things are not nearly as bleak as they have been in previous PM crises. No one would seriously argue that Brown was in a rough a spot as Callaghan in 78/79, or Major around Black Wednesday. OTOH, if the expected comes to pass and labour get shat on from 50,000 feet in the next election we could be looking at an annihilation of the party, certainly as a not too far-fetched scenario. Have you seen how many cabinet members are in danger of losing their seats? You could have a situation where there were very few people of any quality or credibility in the parliamentary labour party.

This is exactly what happened to the conservatives over the past 15 years, but at least you could say that the Tories never lost touch with their core support. It was a certainty that they would get it together eventually, as there will always be a conservative-voting hinterland in the UK. Can the same be said for labour nowadays?

I’m not underestimating GB’s intellectual ability. It’s just that he seems incapable of communicating with the public, and, more seriously, for some reason he seems to have a real problem with dealing with difficult issues.

As far as we could tell, as Chancellor he seemed to able to cope. I seem to remember that the general opinion was that the economy was in safe hands. While outside events (economically speaking) have exacerbated the problems, he really doesn’t seem to be coping. I’m worried about the future.

How is getting a tax cut disenfranchising? Did the poor lose their right to vote because of this? I don’t understand.

Otherwise I agree with what you wrote. I suspect Brown is a victim of the Peter Principle; a pretty skilled and capable Chancellor of the Exchequer proving that he isn’t up to the job as PM. If I were a Brit I’d probably vote for Labour (or maybe the SDP, if they weren’t perenially also-rans), but by now it’d probably be healthier for British democracy for them to leave the corridors of power after so long.

Busy Scissors, what’s the story about Brown and the Olympic torch runner? I hadn’t heard anything about that.

We got lumbered with him because Tony Blair and Gordon Brown made a deal where Brown would step aside from the leadership election in return for Blair, more or less, passing the torch to him in the future. He really should have been challenged in a proper contest to give some legitmacy to his leadership.

How much worse can it get, depends on how bad the world economy gets and then double it. His economic policies, while at the time seemed great to most, have collapsed with the world economy. His constant tax and spend policies have also not seen any benefit, other than a large amount of money wasted. The voters that Blair managed to convince to vote Labour are now fed up without all the spending for nothing and are heading back to the Tories.
Currently, anything that goes wrong is attributed to him, unfair perhaps, but he is in charge. Given his statement that he only wants to fight in one election, I wonder if he has had enough. I think a lot of people are just marking time until either the next election or until he is challenged.

He scrapped the tax rate of 10p, thereby moving all those into the next, higher, tax band. I was using the word disenfranchising in the sense of being alienated. Sorry if I used the word incorrectly.

It wasn’t a big deal - just an example of an awkward photo-opp. Chinese security people milling around, GB looking uncomfortable and in the way. The sort of non-event Tony Blair would have swanned through effortlessly but makes Brown look nervous and stumbling.

Tax cut Issue, numbers are not exact

0-£5k: tax free
£5k - £10k 10p per £1 tax
£10k - £30k 22p per £1 tax
This was changed to

0-£5k: tax free
£5k - £30k 20p per £1 tax

Anyone who had a salary in the 10p tax band lost out. ie. the party of the worker class forced the lowest paid workers to pay more tax.

He’s trapped in a divided party with Blairites (read, basically ‘more Thatcherite than Thatcher could ever get away with’) on one side and social democrats on the other.

He’s also trapped by the electorate’s desire for more services etc than they are willing to pay for in up-front taxes - hence all the Private Finance Initiative bollocks and ‘stealth’ taxes. Dealing with issues cost money and on top of that the major issues are beyond his control now.

It’s not his fault the world economy is in crisis or that any green energy policy (from nuclear power to windmills) demands scads of public money and high energy costs. We the electorate are just children. We want more more more but we are not prepared to pay for it. We want every criminal locked up but won’t pay for the prisons. We want the Armed Forces to have the best but etc etc etc.

And now we’re all busy convincing ourselves that somehow the Tories have gotten hold of a magic wand and a money tree. In 10 years time we’ll be thinking the same thing about New Improved New Labour (now with 100% less Brown).

It’s about time as an electorate we grew the frack up.

Very true. But it’s human nature. Any politician has got to face up to that conundrum.

It’s just that the current state of affairs doesn’t allow much leeway between public spending and taxation. Just think of the forthcoming public sector strikes. That’s not going to do much for GB: he’ll be trapped between a rock and an even harder place.

Actually, the taxpayers would like to see a return on our investment in UK plc. Over the last few years, they were quite willing to fork out a bit extra for better hospitals, schools, council services etc etc. Times were good, we could afford by and large afford a bit extra to make it work.

That money has all gone and not improved services in the way it was promised.

If he could not get it right then, now that times are harder, people are far less interested in giving him money because based on past performance he will waste it again.

I did have no problems paying a bit extra if it would have had an impact and improved services as promised. It didn’t happen. Why should I trust him again.

Note that the Tories have not mentioned tax cuts yet and are promising currently that they will be sticking to Labour spending plans.

He’s doomed. I vote Labour and I can’t bring myself to vote for them. I might if they ditched Brown in favour of a young non-Blairite but anyone who believes the tories will magically solve all our problems while reducing the tax burden and driving down energy costs are dreaming.

Services have improved dramatically, particularly in the NHS but I take your point - much money spent in many areas and too much of it taken up in the outrageous salaries doctors paid themselves. When the new GP contracts were agreed doctors awarded themselves a 30% pay increase and it was stupid of the politicians to not realise that is what would happen.

Ageing populations mean that Council Taxes have to rise just to keep pace with rising demand. The elderly have to be cared for yet the Right bang on about how ‘unfair’ it is to expect them to contribute to that cost by selling their houses. fine - show us your magic money-tree then.

And then of course there is the endless and pointless foreign wars of choice money-pit and the whole ‘let’s not tax the rich in case we upset the Daily Mail’ thing.

But you’ll get no argument from me if you claim that this is a mendacious and incompetent government. Still not a match to the last Tory admin though and as the tories have never had the slightest interest in doing anything else than looking after their own I very much doubt if their ‘cure’ of even more free-market quakery than Blair could shove down our throats will do anything but make things worse.

A big problem is that Brown simply isn’t a leader. He needs someone behind whom he can stand. And he’s indecisive (as noted above) and a coward. His glass jaw is infamous.

We British like a leader who has the courage of their convictions - or at least appears to. Brown isn’t a leader and has neither.

The wave of slease is breaking - Wendy Alexander, the Balls, that donor who went via intermediaries, etc. Snouts at the trough!

It’s the same as the last Tory admin: they get into power for too long and assume that they’re above the rest of us.

Perhaps you’d be interested inthe view from Across the Pond?

Oddly, I have almost the exact same view of things as NineToTheSky. I don’t follow British politics terribly closely (as I don’t much care about the various ways people in other countries screw with politics), but even I noticed G. Brown’s erratic behavior.

For me, it was the Northern Rock crisis which crystalized it, as his handling was grossly inept. Even if he felt it was necessary, and I think there are several other, more effective ways to get the end result he needed, his method needlessly burdened the people of Britain and will have nasty repercussions.

But moreover, his general statism is just semi-ridiculous. The “Stalin to Mr. bean” comment is pretty apt here. He wants apparently to centralize everything under one all-powerful, absolute, but hideously incompetent government. Think Brazil (the movie) but with more idiocy and less efficiency. Everything is being shoved into a one-size-fits-all government apparatus which is woefully inadequate at the tasks to which it appoints itself.

The issue with Northern Rock was that to be seen as a competant money managing PM, he had to find a rescue package, and to prevent a domino effect.

However, Northern had been managing its business in such a way that all the wise money folk, wise well after the event as usual, said this was not sustainable - since it was based on relending money from other sources and not from its own assets.

I would expect that lots of folk put their money in Northern to get a nice return, but with higher returns come higher risks - and letting it collapse would inevitably have led to complaints from ‘little people’ who lost out and this would have played very badly in the media.
I don’t really think there was any way of coming out of this situation well for GB.

The problem is that now I have a large liability to bail out the unwise decisions others have made for thier own personal gain, to then follow this up with a decision to get rid of the 10p income tax and so hike up the payments of the poorest section of society is rather at odds with the aim of lifiting people, especially children, out of poverty. This is GB’s stated aim, its what he has chosen to be measured against.

You also have to rember something else, because to appear a competant economy manger, you have to keep both interest rates low, and inflation low - not easy as low interest rates often lead to increased spending.
In order to do this, there have been appeals to ‘wage restraint’ which judges, Mps doctors, city bonusmen have studiously ignored.

What has happened is that to set a ‘good example’ the pay packets of public servants have been held down below inflation for the last 3 years.

Realise this, public servants are not the bowler hatted Times carrying individuals often protrayed in the media, their median income is significanlty below the national average -with those in the home counties doing especially badly compared to the free market.(indeed recuitment of higher qualified civil servants - such as myself - is very difficult to such an extent that they take what they can get instead of what is needed, with all the effects on departmental competance that implies)

Also, every hospital and every city council has had a job evaluation and this has resulted in tens of thousands of people being downgraded, and a few upgraded, but the overall effect is downwards.You can imagine the discontent this has caused, you work somewhere for 20 years and suddenly you get downgraded 2 posts.

Right now Public Servants have seen attempted attacks on pensions, this years pay round will be at least 2% below inflation with large numbers actually going even lower than this, then think to yourself this, there are around 5million public servants, they tend to be concentrated in the cities which are the Labour party heartlands.

You cannot afford to alienate 5 million of your core vote, and because of the way they are dispersed (mostly in labour strongholds)they will have an immense influence on Labours chances, they probably represent the critical majority in over 200 parliamentary constituencies - this is no exaggeration.

It’s fair to say that the only reason that Labour support held up, was the fear of privatisation of public services by a Conservative administration, however, I now work alongside others doing exactly the same as me, only they work in the private sector, and get paid £6k per year more, there has been a stealthy privatisation of public services, those being transferred are often labelled as ‘consultants’ when they are actually public servants moved into the private sector and doing the same work for more money.

Having seen this, public servants, from hospital cleaners, right through to regional managers have at the very least not turned out to vote for Labour.

5 million votes and then add in their dependants - another 5 to 10 million, out of an electorate of 42 million, largely concentrated in Labour strongholds - think about it.

I will also add, in the last general election 27 millions actually turned out to vote, this gives the significance to the potential effect of a public sector vote.

Even his credentials as a competent Chancellor of the Exchequer are open to question. He inherited an economy in great shape; his tenure coincided with liberalisation in China and India, which virtually ensured low inflation. Was he ever really tested? His notable achievements in that job seem to have been making the Bank of England independent (good, I think?), and massively complicating the tax system, after years of good but unglamorous work in the opposite direction by his predecessors (bad).

Well, it is up to 1 in 4 people now working in the Civil Service as GB has increased it to true and bribe a chunk of the electorate by getting them to work for the state.

There isn’t really the money to pay for it any more and frankly that is too many people which cannot be supported by the rest of the country. If they are wondering why their salaries are being kept low, it is because it is not affordable as the money is being spread too thin.

I sometimes wonder if Gordon Brown seems to think that everyone should work for the state and you should be given a little bit if pocket money in return.