These are bad times for Gordon Brown. Opinion polls suggest that David Cameron’s lead will grow as soon as he succeeds Tony Blair, his Budget flopped with voters, his nose excavation habits have become a pick of YouTube (thanks to Guido) and his former Cabinet colleague Charles Clarke is desperately organising a leadership challenge to him.
His latest troubles stem from his 1997 decision to ignore civil service advice and carry on with his disastrous raid on Britain’s pensions. A memo headlined in Saturday’s Times revealed that Mr Brown was warned that pension providers could lose £4bn-a-year, that the low-paid would be hurt and that there would be a big impact on share values. In so many ways this pensions drama is a cameo for the sins of Gordon Brown’s whole decade in Number 11 Downing Street:
- Arrogant: Gordon always knows best (or at least he thinks he does). His Cabinet colleagues have long complained about his arrogance. His former top civil servant compared him to Stalin two weeks ago. Because of his waving away of civil service warnings on the pensions crisis we now know that arrogance is not something he has learnt in office but a fault from the very beginning of his time in Government.
- Short-termist: For a short-term revenue windfall Gordon Brown did long-term damage to Britain’s pensions sector. The same can be said of the complicated tax system that he has created. The sly and stealthy taxes have brought extra money into the Treasury in the short-term but at the long-term expense of Britain’s competitiveness.
- Sly: The civil service advice was released at the end of the parliamentary session – leading opposition politicians to claim that he was trying to hide the bad news. The news would probably have been forced out by Freedom of Information requests but Brown may have acted now in order to ‘bury the bad news’ before the leadership contest gets underway. Brownites would like us to believe that the era of spin will end when their man replaces Tony Blair as Prime Minister but Mr Brown has been as guilty of New Labour’s defining weakness as his long-time neighbour. Every one of his Budgets has hidden the bad news. This year’s Budget was no exception. A 2p cut in income tax was proclaimed but lots of stealthy tax rises were only discovered in the days that followed.
- Unrepentant: Gordon Brown won’t ever admit when he’s wrong. Although his pensions raid was clearly the wrong thing to have done he still won’t admit it. "A stealth tax aimed to hit those who have worked hard and saved for their future was pushed through, and then, when the full scale of his failure is finally revealed, there is not a hint of an apology," notes George Osborne in today’s Mail. Brown is also unrepentant about the complex maze of benefits and tax credits that he has created and the persistence of poverty despite massive and wasteful expenditure.
Some leading labour modernisers are desperate for an alternative successor to Tony Blair to emerge but the supertanker that is the Labour party seems unable to engineer a change of course. After years and years of Tory leadership crises its fun to watch Labour enjoying one of their own.
Noon update: CCHQ has released a document highlighting Brown’s reluctance to answer certain types of probing Parliamentary questions that other Ministers don’t mind answering, and Philip Hammond (who is quite busy at the moment!) has picked up on how he apparently wanted to take £8bn out of annual pension funds rather than "just" £5bn:
"Gordon Brown’s betrayal of pensioners in the 1997 budget was carried out not only against Civil Service advice but even against the will of the Prime Minister. "This revelation today shows that if it hadn’t been for Tony Blair’s insistence on watering down Gordon Brown’s tax raid, the damage would have been even worse than the £100 billion hit that pensions funds have already suffered."