Magazine article Public Finance

Make Up or Break Up

Magazine article Public Finance

Make Up or Break Up

Article excerpt

For every complex problem, a wise man once said, there is always a simple solution and it is probably wrong.

Take the England team's performance in the World Cup. We could all see the problem, but unfortunately there were no simple solutions that were also right.

Few people will apparently have felt this more deeply than our own chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, the John Bull of Dunfermline. Brown spent much of the World Cup attempting to convince the English that he really, really wanted England to win.

Journalists were invited to watch him watching England win; he even claimed to have enjoyed watching Paul Gascoigne score for England against Scotland in 1996. The temptation to paint a cross of St George across his face and start singing Three lions must have been hard to resist.

Who knows, in the next few weeks we might read interviews in which he personally vows to hunt down and 'do over' Cristiano Ronaldo for his part in Wayne Rooney's sending off.

The reason behind this grim spectacle is well known. Brown is concerned that his Scottish descent will be held against him by English voters. He rightly fears that his opponents will play up the wrong contrasts between himself and Tony Blair, depicting him as someone out of step with Middle England because he is a Scottish socialist.

So Brown is working hard on his negatives, declaring his passion for Trident missiles and the boy Rooney.

The problem with these simple solutions is that they are wrong.

The Trident debate lacks the salience it had 20 years ago and Brown's efforts to show his love for the green and pleasant land make him look absurd.

The simple solution was wrong. Perhaps a better plan was not to try to find a quick fix for the problem of his Scottishness - if indeed it is a problem - but to make it less important than his positives. The best argument for Brown over Cameron is his experience and clear qualification for the job; his status as a serious political leader.

The more he can persuade voters of this, the less it will matter that he may be regionally challenged.

But Brown is not the only one being seduced by simple solutions. Cameron is falling into the same trap, offering up easy panaceas to hugely complex issues.

Last week he offered a Bill of Rights, rapidly torn to shreds by legal experts, and this week his party looked set to endorse a plan to bar Scottish MPs from voting on English only legislation in Parliament. …

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