Gordon Brown is to stand down from the House of Commons. The Former Chancellor and Prime Minister won’t seek re-election as an MP in May 2015, we learnt last week. Some will remember Brown for his tub-thumping speeches, for his claim to have “saved the world” in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis or for selling much of the UK’s gold reserve at the bottom of the market.
Others might recall his hard-bitten fingernails or cringe-making caught-on-tape condemnation of “that bigoted women” – after a pensioner and lifelong Labour supporter quizzed him on immigration during the 2010 general election campaign.
Alex Salmond was magnanimous in defeat. “Our referendum was an agreed and consented process and Scotland has by a majority decided not, at this stage, to become an independent country,” said the Scottish National Party leader in his concession speech during the early hours of Friday morning.
“I accept that verdict and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland”.
The vanquished Salmond, though, despite his gracious tone, was also being arch – and even defiant. The key words in the statement above are “at this stage”. Scotland voted No for now, Salmond is saying, but if asked again in a few years’ time the outcome may be different.
I’d like to congratulate Douglas Carswell on forcing a by-election in his Clacton constituency. Furthermore, I hope he wins. I write this not because I’m a UKIP supporter, because I’d take a particular pleasure in seeing the Conservative party suffer in this high-profile Essex constituency or because Carswell is a personal friend. None of these things is true.
What is true is that on the various occasions I’ve met him since he entered Parliament in 2005, and in much of his prodigious written output, I’ve found Carswell to be not only perceptive and intelligent but also, genuinely principled. He’s a debater and thinker who identifies tough issues, immerses himself in research, then comes to clear, intelligible conclusions. That’s rare among MPs.
What was Tony Blair’s economic legacy? It seems odd to pose this question, even though last week marked 20 years since the former Prime Minister became Labour leader. After all, the man who pulled the UK’s economic policy levers during the ten years of Blair’s premiership from 1997 was most definitely Gordon Brown.
Blair’s Chancellor did everything in his power to control economic and financial issues. The turf war between them and the related political fall-out – the TBGBs – was the stuff of Westminster legend. But Blair’s impact on UK economic policy was still considerable, not only in terms of what he did but also what he didn’t do.
The UK government claims Britain is a safe haven”. On the surface, that looks true. Ten-year sovereign yields dipped below 2pc during the last week of 2011. As Chancellor George Osborne often points out, UK state borrowing costs are now similar to those of Germany. In fact, they are at their lowest since the late 19th century. For the Tory high command, benign market interest rates are the ultimate justification for their “austerity” programme. The coalition has apparently convinced global investors its commitment to fiscal probity is deadly serious.
Labour’s economics team and their media cheerleaders conversely claim, ad nauseum, that the government has cut public spending “too far and too fast”. The Tories retort that Labour’s old-fashioned Keynesian alternative – to borrow and spend much more – would be disastrous. If Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls got his way, and the government let public spending rip, the UK would instantly lose its triple-AAA credit-rating and the country would have trouble rolling over its huge debts. A creditors’ strike would ensue, resulting in unpaid state wages, a plunging currency, spiking inflation and serious social unrest. On that score, the government is correct.