Magazine article The Spectator

Boom and Bust for Gordon

Magazine article The Spectator

Boom and Bust for Gordon

Article excerpt

Iain Martin examines Gordon Brown's confident policies before and after disaster struck and finds them wanting

Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalisation

by Gordon Brown

Simon & Schuster, £20, pp. 336, ISBN 9780857202857

Brown at 10

by Anthony Seldon and Guy Lodge

Biteback, £20, pp. 350,

ISBN 9781849540698

In a previous life, working on Scottish newspapers, I used to take delivery of the occasional article offered by Gordon Brown. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer or one of his aides would call- on the way to the airport from some important gathering - to check that the copy sent by Stone Age fax or then new-fangled email had arrived.

It had, I responded ruefully. The piece he had written for the opinion pages had most definitely arrived. It was lying there on my desk staring at me. More than a thousand words by Gordon Brown, waiting to be read.

Beyond the Crash is many times longer than the newspaper articles Brown bashed out. Yet even though the main body of his new book comes in at just 242 pages, in theory brief for a work from a recently retired leader, it feels, because of the content, much longer. Anyone who has had to listen to a sermon tinged with politics delivered by a Church of Scotland minister not blessed with an understanding of the importance of brevity will know the feeling.

The concluding chapter of Beyond the Crash - 'Markets need morals' - even ends with Brown invoking the lessons he 'first learned in my father's church long ago'. Apparently these are timeless values dictating that riches are only of lasting value when they enrich not just some of us but all.

He closes with this sentence: 'These are the values of the peoples of the world. If we fight, we can make them the values of globalisation too.'

Are they the values of the peoples of the world? All of them? Is it is possible for Gordon Brown to know what the peoples of the world want, and arrange for them to have it?

Meanwhile, back on planet earth, Beyond the Crash was billed as being Brown's account of the global financial meltdown. It is perfunctory in that regard, and lacks serious reflection on the deeper causes of the crisis or the part played by policy-makers and their central bankers. They inflated a credit-fuelled asset boom with a seemingly endless flood of cheap money. One of them was Gordon Brown, inspired by his friend Alan Greenspan.

At the root of the reckless boom-time behaviour by bankers and consumers was a very old idea - the notion that 'it's different this time'. The world economy was opening up, a technological wave of change equivalent to a second industrial revolution was underway and Western assets were underpriced. With money so cheap and the outlook so positive one would have to be crazy not to borrow as much as possible and join in the fun. Right?

Wrong. In Britain, who was the father of the idea that the good times would not end?

Significant blame must attach to the author of the slogan 'an end to boom and bust' (strangely a phrase not included in Beyond the Crash).

Brown shows no sign that he has taken any of this on board since he lost the election. For him it is simple. Some of the banks had been terribly bad and he had no idea.

Fred Goodwin of RBS, a man he thought he knew, had 'misled' Brown. Is it possible that the Chancellor wanted to be misled, as the bloated banking sector generated so much in the way of tax revenues he could throw at the public services? Yes.

Then disaster struck and Brown organised a rescue. The plan for direct recapitalision with the government taking large shares in banks was British in origin and widely copied. …

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