In the latest installment of the Indiana Jones series, the
villain Irina Spalko reveals her grandiose plan to know everything
about the minds of men. ‘Careful,’ replies Indiana, ‘you might just
get what you wish for.’ I won’t spoil the ending for those who have
not seen it, except to say that it continues with the genre: Indiana
escapes through an accurate understanding of the artifact (or at least
a mature appreciation of his own ignorance), while the antagonist is
undone by a flawed understanding of their quest.
Gordon Brown must feel a lot like an Indy villain these days.
Having secured the prizes he most valued, he has become increasingly
withdrawn, emerging only to offer empty promises and vague
reassurances, or to blame impersonal factors for his decline. Worse
still, his days are numbered. The only serious debate among
commentators is whether he will resign gracefully or wait to be thrown
out in a bloody leadership battle. No.10 was always a different game
than No.11, but it was never supposed to be this bad. Who poisoned the
Superficially, the chalice is the premiership. But it actually
runs a lot deeper than the office alone. Here was the plan: New
Labour would free monetary policy in order to prevent boom and bust,
liberalising the financial sector to stimulate growth. City pay and
fuel/alcohol/tobacco taxes would fill government coffers using the
headlines of fairness, environmentalism, and public health as justification. Massive government employment programmes would grow the ranks of
the public and quasi-public sector, ensuring future New Labour support
in the form of middle-class dependents.
Brown’s problems today are not due to the failure of this strategy
but its success. A year ago the government fretted about rising house
prices and cheap oil. It now has falling house prices and record oil.
‘Obscene’ levels of city pay, along with their significant taxes, are
falling likewise, partially due to the credit crunch (not Brown’s
fault), and the new tax on non-domiciles (a huge mistake, of which the
effects are just beginning to be felt). Travel is becoming dearer as
taxes and surcharges ensure that even £1 flights move into the luxury
space. The Bank of England ignores Brown’s plea for lower interest
rates, their independent mandate compelling them to fight the
And while the huge numbers of public employees are still there, the
support has waned. Pay isn’t enough to keep up with the rising cost of
living, and high borrowing has left the H.M. Treasury with little
breathing room when it comes to increases. Besides, the Tories are
unlikely to engage in layoffs en masse, depriving Brown of some of the
fear factor in the public sector. New Labour did indeed aspire to
change politics and this is evidenced in David Cameron – the real heir
to Tony Blair.
Blair, for his part, having led the country with a charismatic (if not
always truthful) flair, and now traipsing around the Middle East, fits
the Indiana Jones part nicely.
Brown is alternating between helplessness (it’s all down to
international factor) and experience (who best to manage during this
difficult time?). Most likely, he will be exposed as a fraud, a flunky
whose proximity to the quest implies great knowledge yet in reality is
concealing great ignorance.
At the end of The Last Crusade, Donovan foolishly chooses
the bejeweled cup over the humble grail, revealing his fundamental
misunderstanding of the artifact. Likewise, Gordon Brown has declared
the he ‘can steer this economy’, implying that the economy is there to
be directed by one man, rather than the decentralised decisions of
millions of individuals. His understanding didn’t change when he moved
next door. It was never there to begin with.