Journalism is the first draft of history, not the last. For a good example it’s worth turning to the first few months of Gordon Brown’s regime, which were described almost universally as a brilliant example of political leadership – as the new PM tackled floods and whatever else. In retrospect this was a rather generous verdict.
And according to the journalistic narrative, Ed Miliband has had a catastrophic start to 2012. Just awful. The Labour leader is up to his armpits and flailing, such is his predicament. Such is the verdict from many of our most learned commentators of late. Read more
Reading accounts of the deal agreed between Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel last night to impose new rules on EU countries to guarantee fiscal discipline, you might think the two countries were uniting to save the Eurozone from its more profligate members.
But which two countries first broke the rule that deficits should not go above 3 per cent of GDP? It was France and Germany, back in 2003. What’s more, the two then united to make sure that they wouldn’t face sanctions for doing so – effectively destroying the rules (known as the “growth and stability pact”) altogether.
What’s more, they were supported in this action by the UK (otherwise known as the country that like to lecture others on fiscal discipline). Gordon Brown was chancellor at the time. Read more
The string of allegations made by the Guardian about the ways in which News International reporters and investigators targeted Gordon Brown are extraordinary. They include:
- Brown and his wife’s Sarah’s names appearing in Glenn Mulcaire’s notebook;
- the hacking of Brown’s accountant’s computers to obtain personal financial information;
- the conning of lawyers at top City firm Allen & Overy to hand over personal legal details;
- the blagging of Abbey National employee’s to get Brown’s bank account details.
Tonight’s Telegraph splash is in one aspect sensational: how on earth did they get hold of Ed Balls’ private correspondence? (UPDATE: He left the documents in his old desk at the Department of Education. Sir Gus O’Donnell is set to order an inquiry into the leak, according to Politicshome.)
In another, it is less so: The letters show that the Brownites were agitating to wrest Tony Blair’s hands from the keys to 10 Downing Street six years ago, if not earlier; this we already knew. Not least because it was a very public Brownite coup by half a dozen government aides, led by Tom Watson, who finally held the gun to Blair’s head and forced him to put a timeline on his departure. The poisonous relationships at the heart of New Labour has been well documented by Andrew Rawnsley and countless others. Read more
The Guardian yesterday ran a fascinating story on their front page about how Sir Gus O’Donnell, head of the civil service, had “blocked” an attempt by Gordon Brown to hold a judicial review into phone hacking. We followed up the story on ft.com this morning.
Here are a few extra details which did not make the final cut and may be of interest: Read more
Alan Johnson heavily criticised the New Year rise in VAT from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent this morning, warning it would cost jobs and could jeopardise the economic recovery.
Is this responsible opposition? A Tory source points out that Labour would have almost certainly have done the same thing – or at least considered it very strongly. Read more
Gordon Brown’s love of pre-dawn emails is legendary. But I don’t think anyone imagined they were about mosquito nets. Here’s the passage from the US embassy cable:
The prime minister is personally engaged on assistance issues, Dinham [a senior civil servant] noted. It is not unusual, he said, for DFID officials to receive emails sent before dawn from the prime minister, inquiring about bed net programs to combat malaria, or sharing his latest idea on education programs. Read more
It has been widely noted that David Cameron pinched a soundbite from Gordon Brown in his Guildhall speech on Monday night. Hard-headed internationalism, it seems, is good enough for two British prime ministers. Read more
George W. Bush’s bombastic return to the world stage has reminded me of my favourite Bush anecdote, which for various reasons we couldn’t publish at the time. Some of the witnesses still dine out on it.
The venue was the Oval Office. A group of British dignitaries, including Gordon Brown, were paying a visit. It was at the height of the 2008 presidential election campaign, not long after Bush publicly endorsed John McCain as his successor. Read more
George Osborne’s cut to child benefit has triggered a bit of a debate over welfare handouts and procreation.
This is usually a bit of a no-go-area for politicians. But Jeremy Hunt has been brave enough to suggest that long-term benefit claimants should “take responsibility” for the number of children they have. Fraser Nelson, meanwhile, has dug up some numbers on the 2,500 incapacity benefit claimants with 6 or more kids.
This all reminded me of one of my favourite Gordon Brown stories. There were about 45,000 extra children born as a result of Brown’s largesse with benefits, according to economic research. It is a whole generation of “Brown babies” identified by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
People appear to have taken his fiscal stimulus literally. Big increases in tax credits and income support payments pushed the birth rate to its highest level since 1974. The “price” of an extra child fell for many low income families along with the financial penalty of staying at home as a mother. Working class had more confidence to have children — or at least have them earlier. Read more
It is, of course, entirely co-incidental that Gordon Brown has announced his plans for the future today: just hours after Tony Blair, the yin to his yang, published his autobiography. (Which is apparently flying off the shelves).
Brown will be doing lots of charity stuff – for free – including education work for Africa. The rather sober note struck by Mr Brown is surely not a deliberate attempt to remind the public that he, unlike some, is not a jet-setting millionaire?
He says he will be doing public speaking in the USA, but this will be to fund his charitable work. He has set up something called the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown to pay for staffing costs.
(Incidentally, we asked Ed Balls if his old mentor could come back to the shadow cabinet doing international development; not in a million years was the gist of his response.)
Here is the Press Association:
Gordon Brown announced his plans for the coming months today, including working to increase global access to education and boosting internet use in Africa. The former prime minister will join the Global Campaign for Education’s High Level Panel on Education for All and will work to secure economic justice in Read more
You have to admire Ed Balls for his persistence. On this morning’s Today programme he suggested that the New Labour battles between the Brown and Blair camps were merely a spot of “creative tension” that led to “great achievements.”
Bear in mind that there were vicious screaming matches between the two men and periods where they were barely on speaking terms – creating dysfunction at the top of the government machine. Read more
Senior Labour figures including John Reid and David Blunkett spoke out against a Lib-Lab coalition during the post-election talks. Now we know that Tony Blair was equally sceptical about the idea, thanks to Mandelson’s memoirs in the Times.
According to Mandy, “Blair was firmly oppposed to even thinking about a deal with the Lib Dems.” It would be a serious error that prompted an outcry, he argued. Labour would be “smashed” at the next election. A few days later Blair repeated that it would be a “constitutional outrage“.
The book also reveals that David Miliband and Alistair Darling were firmly against the talks. The national mood at the time was fairly unsympathetic to the idea of Labour – and not only Brown – remaining in Downing Street.
Mandelson says that when Gordon Brown first started discussing the idea of working with the “Liberals” the peer said to him: “If you’re serious perhaps you should stop calling them the Liberals and get their name right.”
There is also a great line about Clegg finding Brown “bullying” and “uncongenial“: In fact Brown had been in what passed for his “listening mode“, according to the peer. It makes you wonder what he was like on a bad day. Read more
The Times has not yet published online the first instalment of Mandelson’s diaries; but we can glean some of their content from that newspaper’s editorial for tomorrow morning.
Apparently, during the post-election coalition talks, Mandelson’s negotiating team was given an ultimatum by Clegg that a Lab-Lib coalition would be impossible unless Brown stepped down.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard this story*, but never before on the record from one of the negotiators. As the Times suggests, the idea leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth (whether or not you admire Brown); the leader of the third party proposing that Britain should be led by a prime minister a] not from the party with the most seats and b] who hadn’t led that party during the general election. Read more
David Miliband may or may not have been right to have abstained from toppling Gordon Brown when he had the chance. I sympathise with his view that the subsequent civil war would not have been worth it; as he tells Alex Smith at LabourList today: “I don’t think anyone would have benefited from a second Kamikaze pilot.”
Now that Brown has gone, however, Miliband is not holding back. Here are some key lines from this evening’s Keir Hardie speech in Wales: Read more
Fascinating piece on the blog of Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA (and part of our election panel last month). In it, he reveals that Stan Greenberg, pollster to Clinton, Blair and others, carried out research just before May 6 which showed that Labour’s vote would have risen under a new leader; in which case we could now be under a different government. (hat-tip John Rentoul). Read more
An important meeting of Lib Dem MPs last night. Opinion has hardened in a number of areas:
Vince made his first intervention – in favour of the Tories So far Cable has kept his powder dry. He’s a former Labour man. But last night he acknowledged that those arguing for a Tory deal were probably right. (There was a wise crack about feeling he was being “set up” to wield the public spending axe.) As a senior figure representing the old-SDP wing, this is a significant development.
Labour need to make a much better offer There was some surprise at both the tenor and the substance of the negotiations with Labour. While Mandelson and Adonis seemed mustard keen on a deal, the others, particularly Balls and Miliband, showed much less enthusiasm. Whether on electoral reform or policy, the first formal meeting suggested they were well short of the Lib Dem policy shopping list. Danny Alexander and David Laws both conveyed this message to the meeting. The MPs demanded to hear if the other two negotiators agreed — and they did. Today’s Labour meeting will be crucial but there is a mountain to climb.
Opinion hardened towards backing a Tory deal There are powerful and senior figures in the party singing the praises of a Lib-Lab deal. It is a faction — including all the former leaders — that can’t quite resist the opportunity to realise Jo Grimond’s dream of a uniting Britain’s progressive forces. But the younger generation are less convinced. All of them would be more comfortable with a Labour deal. But there are worries about legitimacy, about Labour’s ability to deliver, about the good faith of Labour’s Medusa-like leadership. The middle ground is to explore all avenues with Labour. But the mood is with a Tory deal. Read more
I have been puzzling about the sheer intensity of the efforts exerted by Downing Street to drag Nick Clegg from the arms of the Conservatives. The obvious answer is that no prime minister goes quietly and certainly not someone like Gordon Brown, who spent a political lifetime in the quest for the keys of No 10.
But while it is easy to see why the Liberal Democrats have been playing along (leverage in their talks with David Cameron) surely the Labour leadership does not really think it could stay on in government with the support of the Lib Dems and a ragbag of smaller parties? The arithmetic doesn’t work. Nor does the politics for the Lib Dems: you don’t win plaudits from the voters for sustaining in power an unpopular government that has just been defeated at the polls. Read more
No political party wants to give up power. They are, after all, in the business of trying to govern. But the voices urging Labour to eschew a grand deal with the Liberal Democrats and regroup in opposition may have learned a valuable historic lesson.
In 1992, John Major surprised everyone by winning the election; some commentators went so far as to predict we would never again see another Labour government. Yet after the ERM crisis and umpteen sleaze allegations it was the Tories who were out of power for a generation. Had the Conservatives lost the 1992 election it would have been Labour which inherited the crisis and the Tories might well have returned to office at the next election. Instead they lost their reputation for economic competence and became hated. Read more
So the election has left us in the middle section of a Jane Austen novel. Gruff Gordon and Dashing Dave are competing for the affections of Nubile Nick, a comely young thing, sadly living in somewhat reduced circumstances. Much of his estate is now entailed but by gosh he’s full of brio. And we don’t yet know if Nick is the “consent and supply” type.
But instead of secret billets-doux and private meetings, we are seeing the negotiations played out in public with all emotion laid bare rather than remaining satisfyingly buttoned-up. Of course if this were an Austen romance, we know the Lib Dem leader would end up choosing the gruff stand-offish suitor, having been led a merry and disappointing dance by the more polished Conservative leader. Read more