The unwelcome friend

WHAT a lovely thing it is to have someone to stick up for you when things aren’t going too well.

Someone who’ll sail to your side and lend their support. A friend in need, etc.

So think how thrilled the Labour leader Ed Miliband will have been last week.

Floundering in the polls and being given the runaround by the Scottish nationalists, things were not looking too good for Ed.

Then, shazam! Suddenly a very famous figure from our recent past weighed in on his side. I support Ed, he said! Wonderful news!

Yes, it was Tony Blair.

I wonder if that was the moment the British people finally thought — right, that has done it for me.

There is not a cat’s chance in hell I will vote Labour on May 7. I think I would rather even vote for that doolally woman from the Greens.

In fact, I’d rather vote for an empty packet of Hula Hoops. Anything would be better than a party leader who has the support of that smirking charlatan.

Much of Labour’s appeal to voters this time around is based upon amnesia.

They want you to forget what happened last time.

In particular, they want you to forget that under Tony Blair’s Labour government, we illegally invaded Iraq.

And caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, a civil war and the emergence of head-chopping maniacs of the Islamic State. Good call, Tone, that one. Incredibly, he still thinks it was the right thing to do.

Or at least that’s what he says. But then, do you ever believe what he says?

But they also want you to forget the crippling debts we built up and which will still be with us when our grandkids are grown up.

And more than anything they want you to forget it was Labour which opened the floodgates to the greatest influx of immigrants this country has ever seen.

A catastrophe for the country and in particular the very poorest in the country — the people Labour was set up to support.

So, Labour’s approach has been this: “Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, not around the eyes, and forget. Please, please, forget all that stuff we did before.

“We are totally different now! No, honest. We are.”

And in one moment, the moment when the slippery and evasive Tony Blair said: “I support Ed!” I think that people suddenly woke up. And remembered.

There are good people in the Labour Party. People like Jon Cruddas and the campaigning Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk.

If the party listens to the likes of them it might be worth voting for once again.

But right now it is still close to the party led by Tony Blair.

High central state spending, pro-immigration, woefully out of touch with the working class.

I suppose that we should thank Tony Blair for reminding us of this.

Rod Liddle, The Sun, 08/04/15

 

Blair’s second childhood

And what was going on last week with Tony Blair’s fleeting visit to Britain? Blair has no time for Ed Miliband and the feeling is mutual, but both oppose a referendum on Europe.

As PM, Blair loved referendums and even promised one on the European Constitution until he saw he would lose. So he just signed up to it regardless.

It was Blair, remember, who handed Brussels chunks of Britain’s hard-won rebate. It was Blair who wanted us to join the disastrous euro now ravaging EU economies and throwing millions out of work. And it was Blair who threw open the doors to mass EU immigration.

Why? That was the price he was willing to pay for the job as the first President of Europe once he stepped down as PM.

His grandiose dream was trashed, along with his reputation, over Iraq. Deluded maybe, but he still hasn’t abandoned hope. Would PM Miliband secretly help?

“I’ve done British,” declares Blair, 61. “I’ve got decades. I want to be seeing someone when I’m 91 after medical tests which show I am getting younger.” He may already be entering his second childhood.

Trevor Kavanagh, The Sun, 13/04/15

There’s still a problem with Tony.

What the blithering flip was he thinking? How did Tony Blair imagine that it would help Ed Miliband if he were to pop up mid-election and remind us that Labour is too disdainful of ordinary voters to ask their opinion on EU membership?

It’s true that Blair was a successful campaigner in his time; but his reputation started to sink almost immediately after the 2005 election as the disastrous consequences of his Iraq policy became visible. Since he left office, we have mainly heard of him in the context of gazillion-dollar fees from dodgy autocrats.

Does he truly think he can rouse Labour’s activists by jetting in and delivering a condescending lecture about how he understands our European interests better than we do? Plenty of Left-wingers will tell you the only kind of closer association with Europe they want from Blair is to see him on trial for war crimes at The Hague.

The speech itself was what we have come to expect from the old freebie-meister: haughty, hackneyed and slippery. Half our trade is with the EU, Blair claimed; actually, the EU now accounts for just 44 per cent of our exports, and that figure is falling almost by the hour.

He held up the experience of Norway and Switzerland as a warning of what happens when you lose your say over the shaping of EU legal acts; but he forgot to mention that public opinion in both those countries is now so solidly against accession that their pro-EU campaigners have given up.

He was even shameless enough to bring up China and India without mentioning that Switzerland, unlike the EU, has a free trade agreement with the former and is negotiating one with the latter.

In short, he did everything he could do to misrepresent the anti-EU case as insular and nostalgic when, in reality, it is based on a conviction that Britain is a global nation that would do better if it were not trapped in the world’s only shrinking customs union.

With an almost heroic lack of self-awareness, Blair argued that holding a referendum would mean instability and might drive businesses away from Britain.

Tony Blair was shameless enough to bring up the case of Switzerland, which outside the EU has negotiated a free trade deal with China and was in talks with India about a second free trade deal 

On one level, this is demonstrably untrue: our recovery took off almost exactly the moment that David Cameron announced an In/Out poll in January 2013; and, while I’m not arguing that the one was caused by the other, it plainly wasn’t prevented by it, either.

Never mind our current recovery, though. The truth is that we have heard all these predictions of doom before — not least from Blair himself.

Cast your mind back to the late Nineties. Remember how supporters of the euro used to try to scare us. If we kept the pound, they said, investors would leave, growth would slow, unemployment would rise. In fact, Britain has attracted more investment, grown faster and created more jobs than the eurozone states — more jobs, indeed, over the past four years, than all of them put together.

Yet the same people trot out the same flawed arguments about having a free-trade-only relationship with the EU. When I say ‘the same people’, I don’t just mean the same categories of people, such as CBI bureaucrats, mega-bankers and TUC officials. I mean precisely the same individuals — with Blair prominently at their head.

Imagine we had listened to them. Suppose we had put ourselves through the same disaster that Greece, Spain and Ireland went through — only far, far worse, because, unlike those countries, we had spent our reserves during the good years, and were running a budget deficit going into the crash.

The resulting calamity would, apart from anything else, almost certainly have blown the single currency to smithereens. Yet, far from apologising, Tony Blair continues to assure us that he knows best. He refuses to learn from having got it so badly wrong last time. He actively boasts of his contempt for public opinion.

As he put it towards the end of his premiership: ‘The British people are sensible enough to know that, even if they have a certain prejudice about Europe, they don’t expect their government necessarily to share it or act upon it.’

Got that? You may want something; but you secretly yearn for politicians who will ignore you. There is the authentic voice of the Euro-integrationist: smug, vain and wrong.

Opinion polls are very clear. Britain wants a referendum. Young or old, male or female, Euro-enthusiast or Eurosceptic, we feel that an issue of this magnitude should be decided by the entire nation.

Labour often asserts that businesses are unsettled by the prospect but, while one or two mega-corporations don’t like it, businesses as a whole favour a referendum by 66 per cent. So, incidentally, do Labour voters, by 55 per cent.

These statistics are worth recalling because Ed Miliband, like Blair, is prone to claim that David Cameron has been ‘pushed’ into a referendum by ‘Ukip and the Tory Right’. In fact, if anyone ‘pushed’ the PM, it was the British people.

In other words, the system worked: politicians responded to public opinion. There is no dishonour here: it’s what’s meant to happen in a democracy.

One has to ask, though, why Blair thought it wise to pick on an issue where he is so at odds with public opinion. Most of the other parties favour a referendum, whether they are anti-EU (Ukip), pro-EU (the Greens) or somewhere in between (the Conservatives).

Even the Lib Dems appear, however reluctantly, to have accepted the case in principle, and are concentrating on trying to load the question and enfranchise foreign voters to secure more votes to stay in.

Only the SNP shares Labour’s hostility — a stance so hilariously paradoxical, given that party’s attempt to break up Britain through a referendum in Scotland, that it almost defies description.

A possible reason for Blair’s choice of subject is that uncritical support for Brussels is one of the few areas of policy where he can sincerely support the current Labour leader.

Miliband has comprehensively disowned New Labour. Where Blairism was about allowing businesses to make profits, so as to generate more revenue for ministers to spend on their pet schemes, Miliband is openly anti-business.

On issue after issue — tax, immigration, contracting out in the NHS — he has repudiated his predecessor-but-one. Hostility to a referendum is at least something the two men can still agree on.

Nonetheless, one has to ask whether Tony Blair’s comments were primarily intended for the British electorate at all. These days, he struts a far wider stage.

Remember how, back in 2004, when he was a putative candidate for the newly created EU presidency, Blair handed away the greater part of Britain’s rebate and won nothing in return?

That gesture, in retrospect, was plainly aimed at a non-domestic audience, and I suspect yesterday’s speech was, too. Now he’s apparently lost his job as peace envoy for the Middle East, no doubt Blair is keen to remind the world that he is available for offers.

Tony Blair has come to personify the trans-national elites, the Davos schmoozers, the know-it-alls who fret that the rest of us are too dim to understand politics. He is attracted to the EU system, not despite its lack of democracy, but precisely because it allows technocrats to sidestep public opinion.

Indeed, the real mystery is not Blair’s Euro-fanaticism, nor even Miliband’s, but the fact that both men still think of themselves as authentic heirs of the Labour tradition.

A party that was founded to enfranchise and empower working people now refuses to ask their opinion. That’s what Brussels does to you.

Dan Hannan, Daily Mail, 08/04/15

The orange millionaire

One has to wonder what was going through the mind of the Observer editor when he decided, at the time of Iraq’s umpteenth dissolution into bloody chaos, to commission Tony “WMD” Blair to do an article on “Middle East peace”. Did he just think “oh, let’s get the guy who did the whole Iraq war thing, he must know a bit about peace as well”? Perhaps Tony came cheap, though this I found doubtful.

Maybe this is the beginning of a series of counter-intuitive Observer articles. Next week: advice from the late Jimmy Savile on Keeping Your Kids Entertained in the Holidays; Sir Genghis Khan OBE on “building new infrastructure in central Asia”; and a health column written by a plague rat.

Alternatively, perhaps Blair asked to write this piece, because he is a guiltless moral narcissist who is incapable of seeing how ridiculous he looks.

To me, that last explanation makes most sense, as it accords with the behaviour of Blair’s ilk: the modern ruling class. These people, our betters, seem, in recent years, to have lost all sense of shame and decency: they have forgotten the necessity of lying low, the moral requirement of being humble and saying nothing, when they have obviously fouled up.

You see this mindset everywhere: from the Europhiles who still pontificate about matters European despite getting UK euro membership catastrophically wrong, to the bankers who opine on economics despite driving half the world close to ruin, to the public sector quangocrats who slide, silently, eerily, and without apology or punishment, from six figure salary to six figure salary – despite leaving abject failure in their wake. Blair is, in that sense, just another member of the Great Shamelessness, albeit probably the best paid and the most orange-coloured.

Is there anything we can do about this? Maybe not. Perhaps we are doomed to be a nation of mangy lions led by braying beach donkeys. But sometimes, when I am slightly drunk, I dream of pitchforks. And burning pyres. And stuff like that.

Sean Thomas, Telegraph blogs, 05/08/13

 

Groan…peace in our time, by Tone

Tony has been divesting himself of opinions about both Syria and Egypt. On the vexed question of Syria, he said that we had to intervene, because not to intervene is a decision just like intervening is a decision, a philosophical point which he clearly believes has eluded the rest of us. He seemed mildly surprised that the Syrian civil war had occasioned even more deaths than the war he and George kicked off in Iraq — and this, it seemed, was one justification for prolonging the conflict by doling out weapons to the jihadi rebels. His logic seemed to me demented.

We should take the side of the rebels because other people are intervening on the side of Assad, seemed to be another inference. I don’t understand how this makes the remotest sense. Does he think that if we hamper Assad and help the rebels fewer people will be killed? I would have thought precisely the reverse. He did not address the question of whether or not the rebels were decent, fair-minded democrats. The ‘intervention’ in Iraq seemed to have been predicated on the liberal evangelistic belief that given the opportunity, everybody would turn out to be sort of New Labour in their thinking, wishing for nothing more than a polite secular democracy. This was, I think we would all agree, a mistaken belief.

On Egypt, Tone was still more bizarre. Having, one supposes, supported the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak as an expression of people power and liberty, Tone now thinks it was correct of the military to stage a coup to remove the democratically elected President Morsi and his legions of bearded maniacs from the government of the country. His rationale for this apparent volte-face is that lots of people turned out to demonstrate against Morsi. Large-scale public demonstrations never seemed to make much of an impression on Blair during the time he was in office; I suspect he would have cavilled if, following the anti-Iraq war protests in Trafalgar Square, the army had locked him up in the tower and installed Clare Short in his place. More to the point, if the protests against Morsi justified his removal, why do the even larger protests at his incarceration not justify his reinstallation? This question he did not address.

‘We suspect it may be powering a cannabis farm.’

The thing is, for a liberal evangelist, Tony Blair’s commitment to democracy is a terribly thin and tenuous thing. If people vote the wrong way — as they did in the first Palestinian elections when, as most sane people predicted, the public went for Hamas over Al Fatah — Tony enjoins them to have another vote and see if they can get it right this time.

Rod Liddle, The Spectator , 13/07/13

Balls

Balls is no fool. I struggle to believe that he believes his own account of the boom and bust years, but he actually seems to, despite the evidence.

During the boom, several things happened in the UK simultaneously. The financialisation of the economy – which had started in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher – went into overdrive under Brown during his decade at the Treasury. The government was very enthusiastic about this, and the resulting tax revenues. Number 10 and Number 11 got very reliant on and close to the banking industry.

The government-sponsored cheap money of that era – which, married to financial innovation was fuelling the rise of the banks – also fuelled an astronomical rise in personal debt, as mortgages and loans became cheaper and millions of Britons leveraged themselves up. There was a borrowing binge and the government smirked, in a self-satisfied way, pointed at it and said: look, prosperity.

In this climate it was felt safe to increase government spending markedly, and latterly to push it to levels that were bound to store up trouble if there ever came a sudden reverse, which human history suggests there usually is when people have got over-excited for a long spell. Then tax receipts and economic activity would fall sharply and there would be a large hole. Call it the deficit.

Catastrophically, the then government thought that the good times would continue in perpetuity. In this Labour was steered exclusively by Gordon Brown on the economy and his guru Ed Balls, because no-one else in the party was permitted to  have any thoughts on the economy, let alone voice them. It wasn’t all hubris, although hubris was a large part of it. It seemed, for a while, that the enormous increase in the size of the global economy, as emerging economies roared into life creating hundreds of millions of new producers and consumers, had changed the rules of the game. It was combined with a surge of disruptive new technology that promised a hand-held second industrial revolution. And there was huge innovation in financial services. It was post Cold War western over-optimism. It was quite, quite mad. And the Tories did hardly anything to warn about the risks either.

Until Ed Balls applies his formidable intellect to providing a proper account of what he thought he was doing in the boom years, it really is going to be hard to take his speeches seriously.

Iain Martin, Telegraph blogs,  03/06/13

The Brown Perversion

For the bulk of the 20th century, British wage-earners took it for granted that it was virtuous to set aside money for their retirement and for a rainy day. This notion has vanished. Gordon Brown looted or ruined British pension schemes, while creating a perverse system of financial incentives which made it sheer madness for ordinary people to set aside money for old age. The more they saved for themselves, the less they got from the state. Some think this system was based on calculation: Labour may have preferred voters to be dependent on state benefits rather than standing on their own two feet.

The distortion was very similar to the double jeopardy Brown created for those returning to the job market, where he made it financially rational to remain on state benefits rather than to take work. Iain Duncan Smith has devoted the first three years of his time as Work and Pensions Secretary to undoing this obscene abuse of the welfare system.

Peter Oborne, Daily Telegraph, 08/05/13

NHS Mess

Despite widespread concerns over the launch of the 111 service, Sir David Nicholson — the shamed NHS chief who should have been sacked over the Mid-Staffordshire scandal — ignored pleas to delay the roll-out. He later admitted he had again ‘let patients down’ by not intervening. Astonishingly, more than eight out of ten of the people answering the phones to worried patients have no medical training, while computer systems have repeatedly crashed.
Ambulance crews in some areas say workloads have doubled because so many calls are wrongly flagged up as emergencies. One team in the South-West rushed out to be confronted by a case of hiccups; another by a cat with diarrhoea.Such absurd incidents sound almost amusing — yet this could not be further from a laughing matter, with doctors warning that lives are being put at risk as heavily stretched services come under even greater strain.
The medical unions are right to raise the alarm over the shambolic introduction of this shockingly inept service. Yet this is a symptom of a far deeper ailment in the health service — and doctors cannot avoid their share of the blame. For at the root of it all is the selfish zeal with which they ditched the old-fashioned approach of family practices offering round-the-clock care to patients.
The saga began with the disastrous deal Labour ministers struck with GPs nine years ago that, incredibly, saw them earning more than before in return for working fewer hours. This new contract allowed GPs to stop treating patients outside office hours, in return for a supposed £6,000 salary cut. Nine out of ten family doctors instantly stopped providing emergency cover — yet average pay rose by one-third thanks to various simple targets they were set.
As a result of this ridiculous offer, Britain has the world’s best-paid GPs, earning average salaries of more than £100,000. Yet four million more patients are using hospital A&E services each year. This flooding of hospital emergency units is the single biggest operational challenge for the cash-strapped NHS.
Much of the upsurge has come from worried parents who are being denied access to their GPs or who are reluctant to rely on locums who have no knowledge of their family and are possibly from abroad. Little wonder that emergency hospital admissions of under-fives jumped more than 50 per cent over the past decade.
According to one recent study, that represents a ‘systemic failure in the NHS’ — certainly, few children today enjoy the security so many of us had as youngsters of being cared for by a friendly face when sick at night. But the biggest pressure on A&E units comes from those patients with long-term conditions associated with ageing, such as diabetes, dementia and heart problems, who account for more than two-thirds of health spending.
These are the old and disabled who always bear the brunt of failure in the health system.
Ian Birrell, Daily Mail 05/05/13

Gordon hasn’t shown up to speak for his constituents in Kirkcaldy since last November, yet still claims his £1,300-a-week MP’s salary. Local councillors would be automatically struck off by now if they hadn’t turned up to work for that long. After Brown’s bonkers turn at the Leveson Inquiry, where he denied on oath ever plotting to get rid of Tony Blair or briefing against his colleagues, Guido was surprised he didn’t make it to Thursday’s mental health debate…

Guido, Daily Star, 18/06/12

A few years ago, David Cameron’s predecessor showed no interest in the 65th anniversary of D-Day, until huge American and French commitments to the occasion shamed us into turning up at the last minute.

Max Hastings, Daily Mail, 08/06/12

Yesterday was one of the most monumentally misguided performances I have ever seen, and I say that as someone who has sat through many Gordon Brown speeches down the years….When he denied that he had known about the plot by his supporters to unseat Tony Blair, Lord Leveson should have asked an attendant to bring an extinguisher to deal with the fire raging in Mr Brown’s pants.

Iain Martin, Telegraph Blogs, 12/06/12

Mr Brown’s answers too often beggared belief. He was under oath, of course, and it is therefore difficult to contemplate that he might have been less than honest.

Ben Brogan, Telegraph Blogs, 11/06/12

A spokesman confirmed that there is no rule stipulating that you have to work in order to get child tax credits. In fact the more children you have and the less work you do, the higher the amount you are entitled to tends to be. The Revenue simply pays regular large sums into your bank account. Brown turned Britain’s tax collection organisation into another benefits agency.

Patrick O’Flynn, Daily Express, 02/06/12

Gordon Brown’s catastrophic attempt to buy votes with taxpayers’ money has left Britain with a swollen public sector which we simply cannot afford. The Coalition has talked about cutting it back, but is still spending even more than the last Labour Government. It’s not their fault, but the reality is that there are now far too many public sector workers. Many of them are in jobs that don’t need doing, many more are grossly overpaid

Simon Richards, Daily Mail, 13/05/12

As for Mr Brown, I hope his constituents are happy with his failure to represent them at this event. Was he ill? Was he abroad on some money-raising manoeuvre? Or couldn’t he be fagged? Is he simply a sulking disgrace, contemptuous of the parliamentary democracy which projected him to the highest offices of the kingdom?

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail, 11/05/12

I trawled through more than 25 years of public spending records. What they show is a relentless rise in state largesse, through good times and bad, the upshot of which is institutionalised indulgence: luxuries have become necessities and value for money exists only as a concept. Between 2000 and 2010, UK government real expenditure (inflation adjusted) increased by 53 per cent from £451 billion to £688 billion.

Jeff Randall, Daily Telegraph, 26/03/12

If next week’s GDP figures confirm that the UK has gone back into recession, Keynesians and their Labour supporters will claim full vindication. Yet the true story is of a remarkable escape from Gordon Brown’s toxic legacy.

Jeremy Warner, Daily Telegraph, 19/04/12

‘Lord Mandelson, who was then the most senior member of the Cabinet, charged News International with having done a deal with Cameron. ‘He did this under order from Mr Brown, knowing it to be false. That’s in his own autobiography, that he reluctantly went out to do what he was told, and I think that just reflects on Mr Brown’s state of mind at the time.’
‘I said that very carefully under oath yesterday and I stand by every word of it,’

Rupert Murdoch, 26/04/12

The reality is, of course, that Gordon is not still inside the Treasury. Instead, the problem is that Treasury ministers still seem to be selecting policy options from a Gordon Brown-era policy menu. And if Treasury officials only ever put to ministers the kind of policy options that they used to present to Gordon, you kind of end up with Continuity Brown.

Douglas Carswell, Blog, 12/04/12

By 1997 employment was rising, growth stable, and the deficit was well under control, meaning that Gordon Brown as chancellor inherited the most benign economic scenario for any British government of the last century. The situation was so fundamentally strong that it took three successive Labour administrations to wreck it.

Peter Oborne, Daily Telegraph, 05/06/12

I detest Gordon Brown with every ounce of my being, but at least he had a vision; he wanted us to be North Korea.

Kelvin McKenzie, Daily Mail, 31/03/12

Casino boys

Call Me Dave must have thought he had come up with a wizard wheeze at Prime Minister’s Questions by describing Ed Miliband as the ‘croupier in the casino’ when the banks crashed under Labour in 2008.

Cameron was actually giving Mister Ed more credit than he deserves. In banking terms, Miliband Minor  would have been Private Pike, the Stupid Boy, to Gordon Brown’s Captain Mainwaring.

If Dave really wanted to make the Casino analogy, he should have based it on the marvellous 1995 Martin Scorsese movie of the same name set in Las Vegas.

Gordon Brown would have seen himself in the role of Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, played by Robert De Niro, the Mafia casino boss rigging the roulette wheel in the house’s favour and doubling the take.

Balls would be the Joe Pesci character, Nicky Santoro, the out-of-control enforcer, making sure the mug punters kicked back a large portion of their winnings and stealing from the ‘skim’.

Balls’s missus, Yvette Cooper, would probably fancy herself as Sharon Stone’s Ginger, all fur coat and no knickers.

And Miliband? Cloakroom attendant, if he was lucky. Stupid Boy.

Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail, 08/03/13

A handy summary.

Advance reports of Mr Miliband’s party conference speech say he will develop last year’s call for ‘responsible capitalism’. If so, it would be wise if he showed that he understands the importance of wealth creation — which is more than Nick Clegg or Vince Cable do.

Even an economics illiterate knows that unless you encourage wealth creation, tax revenues will decline and we won’t be able to afford the public services that Labour wants.

Yet there are still many in his party who advocate a wealth tax. They regard most wealth as ‘unearned’, even though these days most ‘wealth’ comprises assets or savings that derive from taxed, earned income. Such ideas are anathema to the aspirational classes from whom Labour craves support.

One of the few sensible things Nick Clegg said in his own party conference speech this week was to remind voters that Labour had brought us the economic crash, whose effects continue to harm us.

We must never forget that.

Nor must we forget all the other things Labour fouled up between 1997 and 2010.

It increased public spending irresponsibly, bloated the public sector, created a welfare-dependent client state, allowed immigration to run out of control, wasted £20 billion on a failed NHS computer system, lowered standards in our schools, politicised and corrupted the civil service, failed to address the care for the elderly and tricked the public into an illegal war on the basis of lies.

Given that appalling record, it is just as well the party is taking its time before it announces what it would do if entrusted with office again.

For now, Ed Miliband should enjoy his party’s lead in the polls. But unless he can make Labour represent the millions of aspirational people in this country, that lead will soon vanish.

Simon Heffer, Daily Mail, 29/09/12

Chicken Brown

It is very rare for a conference season to change the weather. It did happen in 2007, the year Gordon Brown became PM. Brown botched his own conference in Bournemouth, with a dud “British jobs for British workers” speech. He allowed his excited team to talk up an early election.

Then, the following week in Blackpool, David Cameron – who had spent the previous month fighting back magnificently – played a blinder: “You call your election. We will fight. Britain will win.” Back in London, Brown backed down and despite subsequently hosing the banks and the economy with hundreds of billions of pounds of other people’s money, his reputation has never really recovered.

Iain Martin, Telegraph blogs, 27/09/12

Dumbing down

When I took my A-levels in 1983, fewer than ten per cent of pupils got the top grade, whereas last year more than 25 per cent managed it. That’s always struck me as incontrovertible proof of “dumbing down”.

But, happily, this year the percentage of pupils receiving an A or A* grade has fallen for the first time in two decades.

It’s not all good news, though. The numbers doing A-levels in foreign languages are still falling.

In an increasingly global economy, that’s a scandal.

We don’t have to look very far to see who’s to blame. In 2004, the Labour government did away with the requirement that English school-children take a foreign language GCSE.

It was a typically dishonest attempt to create the illusion of school improvement, with the Government reasoning children would get better grades in their GCSEs if they were able to do soft subjects such as media studies instead.

Nice one, Tony Blair. Au revoir and good riddance.

Fooling the people

New Labour had never spent much time talking about the overall fiscal position during the boom years, but as the crash descended their obfuscation only grew worse. Alistair Darling’s Budgets made sure to conceal departmental spending cuts under figures for total spending. The opportunity to release a detailed Spending Review was declined. Gordon Brown introduced that wonderful concept of a “0 per cent rise” in spending. And then he confused the debt and the deficit (“cut the debt by half over the next four years”) in conversation with Gillian Duffy, a sin he only topped when he returned to his prime ministerial car.

Peter Hoskins, Conservative Home, 14/08/12

Bad culture:

But the 21st-century disillusionment is a bit different. In the 1980s, free enterprise triumphed and socialism was defeated. After this triumph, however, not enough people thought about what free enterprise meant. Everything came to seem too easy. A culture grew up, particularly in finance, in which making lots of money for yourself became the chief index of success.

New Labour fostered this culture, confusing the virtue of business success with the vice of sucking up to big businessmen. Other cultures – that of the civil service and of charities and universities – lost confidence and started mimicking the language and style of business, thus compromising their doctrine of duty. Big business, forgetting risk because of a boom that lasted too long, became boastful, monopolistic, overpaid and skilled at manipulating government for its advantage (think of PFI).
Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph, 23/07/12

People don’t really change

Blair is supposed to have matured since the late 1990s when there is plenty of evidence that he assumed office without a sound knowledge of major problems and challenges but instead with a series of instincts, often shallow ones, that have proved harmful to this country….There is no sign that Tony Blair is losing any sleep over this (this being promoting the chances of a mad socialist, Victor Ponta,  to run, and wreck, Romania). He will presumably emphasise his role as the architect of the ‘Europeanized’ Balkans as he manoeuvres to become ‘President of Europe’ once the top people tire of the lugubrious Herman van Rompuy and begin to forget the foreign adventures which alienated Blair from most of his continental allies in the Noughties……

But the European Left’s backing for a leader in Romania who wants to turn back the clock decades, is a high-risk strategy. The Socialists are the ones making the case for the mutualisation of debt in a bid to end the crisis of the Eurozone. However, it is hard to see how they can expect to be trusted in the countries which will mainly foot the bill, when they rally around an intolerant leader who is gambling away the ‘European idea’ in his own country.

Perhaps it is time Tony Blair explained why he should be let anywhere near European power in the future when his rash and shortsighted actions seem to have robbed Romania of the chance of becoming a normal democratic country.

Tom Gallagher, The Commentator, 03/07/12

Good, despite them.

From the moment these Olympics started, there’s been a strong smell of New Labour totalitarianism. Those who have dared to say they didn’t like the Opening Ceremony have been lectured and made to feel isolated….I think this is because the British team has won a lot of medals, and the Opening Ceremony has been much praised. I can’t see why an Olympic opening ceremony should have any politics in it at all.

 But remember how deeply the Blairite Cosa Nostra was involved in securing the Olympics for London at all costs, and how their heirs, the Cameron Tories, have taken up the baton.

Why? I think the pitiful failure of the Millennium Dome rankled badly with the Blairites. They were and are revolutionaries. They had long hoped to use the new century to proclaim Year One of their nasty, tatty, multicultural, anti-Christian New Britain.

Peter Hitchens, Daily Mail, 12/08/12

A1 Hypocrisy

…there is no shortage of information publicly available about what happened (Iraq) , thanks to books, politicians’ memoirs, newspaper articles and documentaries.

Many of those involved, from Blair to his aides Alastair Campbell, Jonathan Powell and Peter Mandelson, have put their self-justifying defences into the public domain first — earning handsome publishing and newspaper serialisation fees. In doing so they have used the same spin tactics they deployed in government. Meanwhile — irony of ironies — Blair is paid millions to travel the world telling foreigners how to resolve their conflicts.

The hypocrisy of all this is extraordinary.

At the same time as cashing in on their accounts of the war, successive members of the political class have closed ranks to stop the public from finding out the truth of what went on…

John Kampfner, Daily Mail, 03/08/12

Money can’t buy you happiness

Blair, it is startling to realise, is not yet 60. He made up his own rules as he went along in government; finally, like no other Prime Minister in history, he resigned in 2007 in full health, still in command of a substantial majority, in the middle of a parliament, and stood down as an MP immediately. Since then, he has concentrated on making a fortune by speech-making (a reported £190,000 a pop), advising JP Morgan (£2m a year), and so on, bringing him up to £20m last year alone.

Can money and an existence shaking hands make up for losing the real power of prime minister? You can see the temptation. The second you leave office, the whole country falls apart. What could be more heroic than a return to leadership in your nation’s hour of greatest need? Well, asked the question in a direct way by Christiane Amanpour, Blair recently had this to say: “I’m not really. It’s just that people ask you the question in a way that says, you know, rule it out, and I kind of think, well, why should I? But that’s not the same as planning to do it. You know what I mean.”

That is not quite a fair recollection of what he actually did say to Sarah Sands in an earlier interview, who asked if he would take another term as prime minister if he were offered it. He said “Yes, sure, but it’s not likely to happen.”

Probably the time will come when we revisit our opinion of Mr Blair, and see the strengths as well as the appalling shallowness of his government. That time is not now, however, and politics has changed in the past five years as if he had never been there. Blair can’t be blamed for having delusions and fantasies about revivals of power. But let’s not encourage him; it seems very unkind.

Philip Hensher, The Independent, 27/07/12

Ed, Ed and Gordon

…that does not give Mr Miliband the moral high ground. This “cess pit” was up and running when he was at the Treasury. He was a key player under Gordon Brown — along with Ed Balls, who now serves as Shadow Chancellor.

It was while these three were at the helm that bankers were ordered to let rip.

“Take more risk,” Mr Brown repeatedly urged them. They were there when Mr Brown sacked the Bank of England as City watchdog and split the job three ways, with nobody in absolute control.

As Labour’s deputy chief whip Lord Tunnicliffe blurted last week, Labour did nothing to criminalise practices for which financiers are routinely locked up in America. “It’s our fault,” he said. “I hope my leaders don’t hear me say that.”

They did. Shortly afterwards, he issued a “correction”. “I was wrong,” he said. But no, you were absolutely right first time.

This scandal, to adapt one of Mr Miliband’s favourite phrases, was made in Downing Street — by his old boss, Gordon Brown.

Trevor Kavanagh, The Sun, 02/07/12

Broken Blair

Asked by CNN if he had “shut the door” on returning to power, he mumbled: “It’s literally – I mean, maybe I should just shut it, but I just kind of think, ‘Why?’ I mean, you know, the – so, look, I’ve still got plenty of ideas and energy. But I can’t see anything happening on the horizon. I’m not planning or plotting or scheming.” Perhaps he wants to lead the Tories….

…Britain is no stranger to political revivals but they normally take place in the context of parliamentary democracy. Not since the Stuarts have supra-constitutional devices been deployed by British rulers, and the precedent was not happy. Russell, Derby, Gladstone, Salisbury all “came back”, as did Churchill and Wilson, except that they had remained part of the parliamentary community throughout, and were accountable to their parties.

A good afterlife is available to British prime ministers. They can get a pension and a platform in the House of Lords. They can pre-empt history with a self-justificatory memoir. They can act the performing seal for fees that defy any concept of value for money. Blair’s top whack is said to be £190,000. Ex-leaders can even take vacuous international jobs, like Blair solving the Middle East or Gordon Brown as UN “special envoy for children”.

Blair seems to have tired of all this and craves a national stage. Yet the craving seems post-parliamentary. “I’ve got things to say and if people want to listen, that’s great,” he cries. He once returned from a visit to the US full of admiration for a constitution where candidates run for office without the clutter of parliament or party. His aide, Jonathan Powell, described his style as “Napoleonic”. It was thus in office. All was form rather than substance. Nothing happened, worked or changed, but the spinners spun and the media purred. Small wonder when Blair left office he sought the messianic presidency of Europe.

We are told that holders of high office, especially those toppled against their will, often fantasise about being summoned back to lead their country in its hour of need. It is a common power dream. Until late in life, Harold Macmillan thought he would return. Edward Heath was sure he would, when Margaret Thatcher was stumbling in the early 80s. Callaghan also murmured of a return to his party’s banner.

In a book analysing “hubris syndrome” (covering many world leaders), David Owen recalled how Blair dismissed an official who cautioned him on Iraq, by saying: “You are Neville Chamberlain, I am Winston Churchill and Saddam is Hitler.” We can see why Blair admitted to Roy Jenkins that he regretted not having studied history. Owen quoted Justin Frank on narcissistic personality disorder, or megalomania, in which a leader “is indifferent to any damage he caused [when in office] because he always had a reason for his actions; he is without guilt or compassion, and incapable of even thinking about reparation”. Witness Blair’s appearance before Chilcot.

A Guardian poll this week was a cruel reality check. It suggested Blair as leader would knock three points off Labour’s rating under Miliband. He must surely realise he has moved on, into a nirvana of limousines, bodyguards, private jets and perma-tans for which he always seemed destined. Blair is the Sepp Blatter of British politics. The world has an appetite for vague platitudes and glamorous hogwash, and is happy to pay him for it.

If Blair really wants immortality, he could find it through redemption. Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, retrieved his reputation with a peace prize. A muckraker called Joseph Pulitzer retrieved his with a prize for good writing. Perhaps the world is ready for the Tony Blair prize. It could be awarded annually in an unbombed Muslim capital for grovelling political atonement.

Simon Jenkins, Guardian, 26/07/12

Osborne/Brown

It was far worse under Messrs Blair and Brown. For 10 years, the PM had no control over the chancellor. That helps to explain why Tony Blair was such an ineffective premier, at least in domestic politics. Watching that bizarre spectacle, Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne were of one mind. Nothing like that would ever happen when they were in power.

Bruce Anderson, Daily Telegraph, 27/07/12

Hanging’s too good for ’em

Like an iceberg, the extent of the damage wrought by the last Labour government is still becoming apparent.

One of the wheezes Labour used to camouflage its vast spending spree was the Private Finance Initiative. These had been brought in by John Major’s Conservatives (to criticism from the then Labour opposition) and involved a private sector entity building something and then selling it or leasing back to the government over a number of years, usually decades.

Upon winning the election in 1997 however, Labour performed a volte face and embraced PFIs. They appealed to Gordon Brown because the liabilities taken on under PFIs would not show up on the government’s balance sheet. In other words, they wouldn’t be included in the national debt figure.

Labour signed up to an estimated £229 billion of PFI projects. That’s almost two and a half times the entire projected budget deficit for 2012 – 2013, or 16 percent of GDP.

And all of it was off the books. This enables Labour supporters to argue that “Public sector net debt (as a percentage of GDP) FELL from the start of Labour’s time in government until the beginning of the global financial crisis”. But, if you include the PFI liabilities the Labour government signed us up to, any fiscal improvement during their time in office vanishes and this already thin argument does likewise. 

Perhaps Brown was stupid and/or hubristic enough to believe he really had banished “Tory boom and bust”. Perhaps he calculated that he would be long gone before the bills for PFI landed on the mat. Either way, while in the long run Brown is (thankfully) politically dead, we taxpayers are not.

Last week it emerged that six NHS trusts were facing bankruptcy thanks to the PFI deals struck by the Labour government. As the Telegraph reported

The total value of the NHS buildings built by Labour under the scheme is £11.4bn. But the bill, which will also include fees for maintenance, cleaning and portering, will come to more than £70bn on current projections and will not be paid off until 2049…Some trusts are spending up to a fifth of their budget servicing the mortgages…Across the public sector, taxpayers are committed to paying £229bn for hospitals, schools, roads and other projects with a capital value of £56bn”

Indeed, like the cat who leaves little ‘presents’ around the house for you to discover when you return from holiday, the Labour government of 1997 to 2010 is the gift that keeps on crapping on your carpet. We will be discovering fiscal turds left by Labour for literally decades to come.

If you were being charitable you would ascribe the fiscal incontinence of the Blair/Brown governments to some sort of Keynesian economic theory, though that fails to explain why they applied fiscal ‘stimulus’ for seven years to an already growing economy.

If you were being slightly less charitable you might ascribe it to incompetence of a quite staggering degree. The last Labour government, after all, were probably the biggest set of mediocre idiots ever to govern this country.

And, if you were being even less charitable, you might ascribe it to something more sinister – Brown poisoning the wells when he heard opposition tanks at the end of his strasse.

The architects of this national disaster have moved on. Blair is swanning around the globe earning millions. Brown is off brooding somewhere and probably enjoying it. Ed Balls, Brown’s right hand man through all this, is now, incredibly, Labour’s shadow minister for the economy!

We will have to live with the consequences of their mismanagement for years, why should they get away scot free? When we look at the continuing harm the Blair/Brown governments did to Britain shouldn’t we consider some sort of economic Nuremberg for these people? To punish them, Blair, Brown, and Balls, for the harm they have done to the British public?

Of course, you could argue that the electorate is responsible for electing these dangerous cretins. After all, every single majority Labour government in history has left office (in 1931, 1951, 1970, 1979, and 2010) with the economy in meltdown. Assuming that Labour voters aren’t so stupid that they don’t know this you have to conclude that they simply don’t care if the economy collapses.

In the wake of the Barclays rate fixing scandal, Ed Miliband has called for a full public inquiry into the banking industry, saying, “If you go out and nick £50 from Tesco, you are punished, at least we hope that you are punished – if you fiddle, lie, cheat to the tune of millions of pounds, you should also have the full force of the law brought against you.”

As Britain’s economy continues to smoulder isn’t it time for Miliband’s former colleagues in the wretched Labour government of 1997 to 2010, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and Ed Balls, to face a reckoning for the continuing damage they wrought upon the nation?

John Phelan, The Commentator, 03/07/12

The PFI disaster

There is nothing as dangerous, they say, as the zeal of the newly converted. So it was when Labour under Tony Blair suddenly discovered capitalism. What had been a small-scale pragmatic policy under John Major’s government, the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), was taken up with huge gusto in order to see the rebuilding of hundreds of schools and hospitals. Gordon Brown loved it too, because, although less wedded to private enterprise, he spotted a way of fiddling his borrowing figures: by shifting billions of pounds of new investment off the government’s books.

We ended up with a deficit of £160 billion anyway. But on top of that, the real cost of PFI is becoming ever more apparent. This week the government had to take over South London Healthcare, an NHS trust, before it succumbed to the annual payments it must fork out to the consortia which rebuilt its three hospitals. Now it transpires that 22 more trusts may similarly be in danger. Astonishingly, considering its budget has more than trebled since 1997, the NHS is facing bankruptcy bit by bit.

Considering that one of the arguments for PFI was supposed to be that it transferred risk from the taxpayer to private investors, it has all become a bit of a sick joke. Unless NHS trusts can find a way of wriggling out of their contracts they face having to shell out an eventual £70 billion to PFI companies — all for £11.4 billion worth of hospitals, many of which may become obsolete well before their 30-year PFI contracts expire. Had the government simply built the hospitals with borrowed money it would, as with its other debts, be paying 2 per cent interest.

PFI was not capitalism in any pure sense, but a strange hybrid in which risk remains with the taxpayer. Can you imagine the government allowing a hospital to go bankrupt, with the receivers sent in to flog off every last scanner and stethoscope? Exactly. That is why PFI companies figured out they really couldn’t lose. There was no way that their tenant was going to default on the repayments.

But combined with that was the folly of allowing civil servants and quangocrats with no background in business to negotiate complex contracts with executives of private companies who were steeped in the art. PFI deals failed to make allowance for the possibility that schools and hospitals might want to make alterations to their buildings, allowing PFI companies to demand huge sums for making simple changes. Schools found themselves unable to hold after-school clubs unless they made extra payments.

Ross Clark, The Spectator, 30/06/12

The Compensation  Madness

Until 2000, solicitors in ‘no win, no fee’ cases could only claim their costs from their own clients. Then New Labour — a party of lawyers, for lawyers, by lawyers — changed the law to allow them to reclaim their costs from the losing party.

The utterly predictable consequence was an explosion in the number of compensation cases and a proliferation of unscrupulous law firms touting for business.

Another inevitable fall-out was that insurance premiums would go through the roof as claims for everything from whiplash to sprained wrists flooded in. Motor insurance costs alone have risen by £400 million a year.

Cash-strapped small businesses simply can’t afford the insurance to protect themselves against personal injury claims. If you run a corner shop, a restaurant or cafe, you live in constant fear of a child spilling a can of pop, which could cause someone to slip over.

The first time I came across the concept of ‘no win, no fee’ was on a visit to Detroit in the winter of 1989.

Every local TV channel seemed to be showing an advert from a lawyer called Sam Bernstein, who promised to secure substantial compensation for anyone who had been injured in a ‘slip and slide’ incident.

Slippery Sam was prepared to sue the City, the County, the State or any unlucky business owner or householder who had neglected to clear the snow and ice off the sidewalk outside their premises.

I can remember writing at the time that it was only a matter time before Slippery Sam’s slip-and-slide tactics arrived in Britain. I never imagined back then that the number of personal injury claims in Britain would ever surpass even the notoriously litigious United States.

But that’s exactly what has happened since Labour changed the law. The number of claims recorded in the UK rose 20 per cent last year, despite the number of accidents falling dramatically.

The difference is that in the U.S., lawyers can only receive a proportion of the final settlement from their own client, which removes the incentive to pursue vexatious claims with limited chance of success.

In Britain, because lawyers can charge by the hour and retrieve their costs from the losing party, there’s no limit to their potential fee. Bringing a personal injury claim is like buying a lottery ticket with an even chance of hitting the jackpot.

So it’s no wonder that in cities like Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, the level of claims outstrips America. In Liverpool, for instance, 52 per cent of all accidents now result in a claim for compensation.

Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail, 05/07/12

Leveson embarrassment

Over the past two decades prime ministers, on taking office, have announced that they want to give parliament more powers. The select committee system – so powerful in other countries – was the obvious route. Tony Blair promised to appear before the liaison committee twice a year, a group made up of chairs of all the various committees. And so he did. Each time he ran rings around them, with his jacket perched on the back of his chair and his schmaltzy smile. No matter how big the crisis of the moment, these supposedly experienced MPs never laid a finger on him.

On specific policy analysis they similarly struggle. Iraq? The Foreign Affairs Committee produced a lamentable performance in July 2003, letting the Government off the hook while berating the scientist Dr David Kelly, who later took his own life….

…The Leveson experience has been useful in demonstrating the relative merits and failings of both parliamentary and judicial inquiries. Even though the witnesses have been forced by law to attend and to swear to give the truth and the whole truth, some of them have either lied or been economical with the verite. The questioning by the presiding QC, Robert Jay, has been varied. At some points he has been forensic; at others, he and Leveson, seem to have been either star struck or credulous. It was frustrating to see Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell – two of the architects of the fractured relationship between politics and media – being given such a sycophantic free ride.

John Kampfner, The Independent, 09/07/12

Spending Money We Don’t Have

Yesterday Guido pointed to Liz Truss advocating tax hikes for the working elderly, today another Tory MP, Nic Boles, is planning to hit the pockets of OAPs. He wants to take away welfare benefits from the wealthy – Brown’s £300 winter allowance for rich retirees on the Riviera is a target. This welfare payment is symbolic of all that that was wrong with Brown’s welfare universalism.

Guido has never understood why millionaires should get welfare benefits, Brown deliberately doled out welfare bribes to the affluent who didn’t really need them to gain political buy-in for the welfare state. Welfare universalism was an ideological policy designed to create middle class support for Brown’s Big Government tax and spend dependency culture. Unravelling welfare universalism is key to cutting the deficit.

The affluent old are a key Tory voting demographic group, Boles is being brave taking them on. As with removing Child Benefit from millionaire mothers there will be resistance and much shroud waving. Unlike raising taxes on the working old, this reform is worth doing…

Guido Fawkes, Order Order, 10/07/12

Brown: greed and the “light touch”

Cheap debt was, in the Labour years, seen as a new horn of plenty – and by everyone.

To banks, it meant being able to take massive bets and reap unimaginable rewards – easy to come by in a bull market. To Labour, it meant a jackpot of cash. Brown’s greed for tax was just as pernicious as the bankers’ greed for profits. Every bonus paid in the City was split 60/40 with HM Revenue & Customs: it was a joint venture with the banks. The Financial Services Authority failed to prevent banks running down their capital ratios, or putting themselves at risk by lending long and borrowing short. So long as the taxes flowed in to fund Brown’s social programmes, his government did not worry too much about reckless lending and market manipulation.

Crucially, the problem was not light-touch regulation but wrong-touch regulation. Petty bureaucracy grew, obstructing citizens who wanted to open normal savings accounts.

This resulted in the ridiculous situation in which children seeking somewhere to put their birthday money were asked to supply a list of documents including a driving licence and utility bill. But an investment bank wanting to make a massive bet, involving enough debt to sink a government? No problem.

And yes, many bankers behaved abominably – their industry being steadily corrupted in the way that Martin Vander Weyer, a former Barclays director, describes on page 30. But the bankers were the bartenders; others organised the party. It was not so much a conspiracy as a collective outbreak of greed and naivety. Brown thought that the world had made a one-off adjustment to a new era of permanently lower interest rates. The Bank of England, with its clever computer models, thought that stability now consisted only in managing the consumer price index.

The regulators thought that City was entering a new golden age. And the Conservatives? There is depressingly little evidence that they thought at all.

Osborne’s spirited J’accuse is warranted:

it was Labour who set up the financial architecture which allowed the City of London to descend into the casino of world finance.

In telling James Forsyth that Brown’s aides ‘were clearly involved’, the Chancellor is speaking the unvarnished truth.

The Spectator, “Omniscandal”, 07/07/12

The Great Gold Debacle

A great deal of Gordon Brown’s economic strategy would strike a sane man as troubling. Not a great deal was mysterious. The orgy of consumption spending, frequent extensions of the cycle over which he would “borrow to invest”, proclamations of the “end of boom and bust”: these are part of the armoury of modern politicians, of all political hues.

One decision stands out as downright bizarre, however: the sale of the majority of Britain’s gold reserves for prices between $256 and $296 an ounce, only to watch it soar so far as $1,615 per ounce today.

When Brown decided to dispose of almost 400 tonnes of gold between 1999 and 2002, he did two distinctly odd things.

First, he broke with convention and announced the sale well in advance, giving the market notice that it was shortly to be flooded and forcing down the spot price. This was apparently done in the interests of “open government”, but had the effect of sending the spot price of gold to a 20-year low, as implied by basic supply and demand theory.

Second, the Treasury elected to sell its gold via auction. Again, this broke with the standard model. The price of gold was usually determined at a morning and afternoon “fix” between representatives of big banks whose network of smaller bank clients and private orders allowed them to determine the exact price at which demand met with supply.

The auction system again frequently achieved a lower price than the equivalent fix price. The first auction saw an auction price of $10c less per ounce than was achieved at the morning fix. It also acted to depress the price of the afternoon fix which fell by nearly $4.

It seemed almost as if the Treasury was trying to achieve the lowest price possible for the public’s gold. It was.

One of the most popular trading plays of the late 1990s was the carry trade, particularly the gold carry trade.

In this a bank would borrow gold from another financial institution for a set period, and pay a token sum relative to the overall value of that gold for the privilege.

Once control of the gold had been passed over, the bank would then immediately sell it for its full market value. The proceeds would be invested in an alternative product which was predicted to generate a better return over the period than gold which was enduring a spell of relative price stability, even decline.

At the end of the allotted period, the bank would sell its investment and use the proceeds to buy back the amount of gold it had originally borrowed. This gold would be returned to the lender. The borrowing bank would trouser the difference between the two prices.

This plan worked brilliantly when gold fell and the other asset – for the bank at the heart of this case, yen-backed securities – rose. When the prices moved the other way, the banks were in trouble.

This is what had happened on an enormous scale by early 1999. One globally significant US bank in particular is understood to have been heavily short on two tonnes of gold, enough to call into question its solvency if redemption occurred at the prevailing price.

Goldman Sachs, which is not understood to have been significantly short on gold itself, is rumoured to have approached the Treasury to explain the situation through its then head of commodities Gavyn Davies, later chairman of the BBC and married to Sue Nye who ran Brown’s private office.

Faced with the prospect of a global collapse in the banking system, the Chancellor took the decision to bail out the banks by dumping Britain’s gold, forcing the price down and allowing the banks to buy back gold at a profit, thus meeting their borrowing obligations.

I spoke with Peter Hambro, chairman of Petroplavosk and a leading figure in the London gold market, late last year and asked him about the rumours above.

“I think that Mr Brown found himself in a terrible position,” he said.

“He was facing a problem that was a world scale problem where a number of financial institutions had become voluntarily short of gold to the extent that it was threatening the stability of the financial system and it was obvious that something had to be done.”

While the market manipulation which occurred when the gold reserves were sold was not illegal as the abuse at Barclays may have been, the moral atmosphere in which it took place was identical.

The crash which began in 2007 and endures still was the result of an abdication of responsibility across the financial sector. This abdication ranged from the consumer whose thirst for goods pushed him beyond into grave debt to a government whose lust for popularity encouraged it to do the same.

Responsibility is evaded by all bar those on whose shoulders it ought to rest. The gold panic of 1999 was expensively paid for by the British public. The one thing politicians ought to have bought with that money was a lesson in the structural restraints which needed to be placed on banks now that the principle that they were ultimately public liabilities had been established.

It was a lesson which could have acted to restrain all players in the credit market boom of the 2000s. It was a lesson which nobody learnt.

Thomas Pascoe, Telegraph Blogs, 06/07/12 (a superb article)

No comment

After the Spectator piece, the subsequent unstatesmanlike exchanges which Osborne found himself involved in with Balls in the Commons did the Chancellor no good at all. It was great entertainment, but extremely unedifying. Try and imagine Geoffrey Howe, Nigel Lawson or Alistair Darling involved in a similar punch-up. They wouldn’t have countenanced it for a second. Gordon Brown would have done it, but that is not saying much.

Iain Martin, Telegraph Blogs, 06/07/12

Eurodementia

Tony Blair has a nerve. Well, that’s hardly news. All the same, my jaw dropped several inches when seeing him tell the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the euro could well be doomed because of the extreme difficulty of keeping “states at very different stages of [economic] development within a single currency zone”.

Er… yes, ex-Prime Minister. This is precisely what we so-called eurosceptics warned of when Europe’s single currency was set up – and you (along with most of the rest of the political and economic establishment) ignored or dismissed this simple point. True, Gordon Brown as Chancellor thwarted the plan to take Britain into this misconceived venture – although I’ve never been sure to what extent Brown’s objections were based on pure economic logic, rather than his custom of blocking whatever it was that Blair most wanted.

Anyway, Blair went on to tell the BBC’s Sunday morning viewers that the only solution to the mess was “a grand plan” for full European integration – and graciously hinted that he was still available to become President of such a superstate.

Dominic Lawson, The Independent, 26/06/12

Immigration and Blair

As Mr Miliband was issuing his cod apology, Tony Blair yesterday insisted he had “no regrets” about opening the floodgates. Polish workers had been a blessing, he said. But he confessed he was worried about “uncontrolled and illegal immigration and organised crime”.

But this is precisely the point, Tony. There are good immigrants and bad immigrants — and you indiscriminately let in the lot.

Murderous drug gangs, child prostitution traffickers and convicted thugs turned Britain into the organised crime capital of Europe.

There’s diversity for you.

Mr Blair then wasted billions setting up a toothless Serious Organised Crime Agency, since effectively being wound up as a failure. Ed Miliband’s mealy-mouthed “apology” contains no serious plans for controlling immigration, still less a cap on numbers. He probably hopes the two years since they lost office is long enough for people to forget.

They successfully changed the face of Britain.

The consequences will be felt, for better and for worse, for generations to come.

Trevor Kavanagh, The Sun, 25/06/12

Brown and the tax code craziness

The more convoluted the tax code becomes, the more time we have to take off work to comply with it. Tolley’s Tax Handbook is now 11,500 pages long, twice what it was when Gordon Brown became Chancellor, and the number of tax lawyers has increased commensurately. There isn’t a small business in the land that doesn’t need to employ an accountant.

Daniel Hannan, Telegraph Blogs, 24/06/12

Brown, Jamaican rapper

Gordon Brown certainly hasn’t changed. His session with Robert Jay QC revealed that he remains the most incompetent dissembler in Britain, which is one of the less unendearing things about him. Most top-rank politicians master the art of lying imperceptibly, as the glib fluency of George Osborne’s testimony suggested. As for another recent witness, a certain Mr Tony Blair would beat the polygraph every time with the knickerless insouciance of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. Gordon might well send the needle off the scale and you wouldn’t even need the electrodes. The old brute telegraphs his renditions of the facts with such clunking blatancy that they feel less like wilful attempts to deceive than an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

His preferred method, often noted during his tenure as PM, is to introduce a whopper with a reference to his father, the presbyterian minister whose example he feels such transparent shame at failing to match. By that analysis, in trotting out the paternal paean, he ridiculed his denial of making that declaration-of-war phonecall to Rupert Murdoch. The other subconscious admission to dissembling was familiar from poker rather than pop psychology. When denying all knowledge of his aides briefing against Mr Blair, his left hand extended along the table. Pushing your chips in with the weaker hand is a classic poker tell that you’re bluffing, though, in this case, one needed no visual confirmation. As futility goes, here, seemingly, was the Leveson equivalent of the philanderer in the Shaggy song insisting to the girlfriend who finds him in flagrante with the next door neighbour: “It wasn’t me.”

Matthew Norman, The Independent, 13/06/12

Brown whopper

Gordon Brown sought to deflect criticism of his mismanagement of the economy by blaming our economic woes on the banking crisis triggered by sub-prime lending in the USA. We were victims of a world recession that had nothing to do with the fact that Brown had spent his time in the Treasury taxing, borrowing and spending to destruction.

Nick Wood, Daily Mail, 11/06/12

Tactical vote rigging

The public sector has become a kind of national addictive drug. It dulls the pain of economic decline — but in doing so it stifles enterprise, dynamism and wealth creation. And it has also created an ever-expanding population dependent on the state and vulnerable to government control — a captive class of permanent left-wing voters.

Melanie Phillips, Daily Mail, 18/03/12

Brown: failure and hubris

We tend to think of Gordon Brown in terms of failure. I mainly associate him with one of the most lunatic ideas in recent human history: the supposed end of boom and bust. The notion that we have arrived at the summit of economic achievement, meaning growth that lasts for ever with perpetual low inflation and low interest rates, is obviously mind-bogglingly daft. It would be amusing that many people were taken in by it for so long if the end results had not been so damaging.

Iain Martin, Telegraph Blogs, 13/03/12

The epitaph

It is now widely accepted that the years of New Labour government were an almost unalloyed national disaster. Whichever measure you take – moral, social, economic, or the respect in which Britain is held in the world – we went into reverse.

Peter Oborne, Daily Telegraph 05/01/12

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