Is That Man a Sadomasochist? Simon Murphy Argues That Gordon Brown's Reluctance to Join the Euro Damages His Prime Ministerial Prospects

By Murphy, Simon | New Statesman (1996), October 14, 2002 | Go to article overview

Is That Man a Sadomasochist? Simon Murphy Argues That Gordon Brown's Reluctance to Join the Euro Damages His Prime Ministerial Prospects


Murphy, Simon, New Statesman (1996)


Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer a political and economic sadomasochist? I'm not inviting you to see the man who would be prime minister as some sort of Miss Whiplash character. But my question is real. I ask because of one four-letter word -- euro.

How can it be that Gordon Brown is happy to let the levers of economic and monetary power in Europe slip through his fingers and into the hands of the 12 eurozone finance ministers? Why does he seem happy to alienate himself from so many European political figures whose support and friendship he will need if he ever becomes prime minister? Why is he content to tie the hands of key sections of British industry and commerce as they fight for profits and jobs against their eurozone competitors? In short, why does he give the impression of preferring self-flagellation and the mantra of the blessed five tests to decisive leadership on Europe and the euro?

I ask this in all seriousness because the guardian of those sacred five tests has some real problems. The longer the referendum on the euro is put off, the greater the impact of the sixth test -- the cost of staying out. Each day's delay damages the ability of many British companies to compete -- sometimes with fatal consequences. It is an act of economic sadism to shoot British industry in the foot in this way.

But it's not just pain being inflicted on others. It's personal, too. The eurozone is not marking time, waiting for the British cavalry to come over the hill. Before every meeting of EU finance ministers, at which Brown meets his 14 opposite numbers, another meeting takes place. The 12 eurozone finance ministers meet to take decisions on economic and monetary policy. The Chancellor has little or no influence over these decisions. Yet they affect the British economy now, and they are shaping the euro that Britain will one day join.

There is another downside. Brown's legendary dislike of the Brussels machine reinforces the sense that he is not a team player, and cares little for the euro and all that goes with it. First impressions are lasting impressions. Britain is not the only country in which there is interest in what sort of prime minister Brown would make.

Yet when the Chancellor does turn his intellect and persuasive powers on to things European, he can be very effective. In the debate over the "withholding tax", Britain was at one stage totally isolated in opposition. Yet, against 14 other ministers, Brown, backed up admirably by Brussels-based British civil servants, turned the issue on its head. In the end, the Austrians and Luxembourgers were isolated in their support for the tax. …

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Is That Man a Sadomasochist? Simon Murphy Argues That Gordon Brown's Reluctance to Join the Euro Damages His Prime Ministerial Prospects
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