Greasy Pole: Lucky Gordon?
Gordon Brown’s new Golden Age
Some things are helpful, if not actually essential, to top politicians or to those who are high enough up the greasy pole to feel threatened by a fall. There is, for example, what might loosely be termed luck – an unpredicted change of circumstances which so affects a situation that it puts the politician in an unexpectedly favourable light. But as a son of the manse Gordon Brown has to believe in something rather more ritualistic than luck. He would not dream of gambling, especially where his political fortunes are at stake. All through the nail-biting perils of the past year he has carried stolidly on, diverting criticism and the prospects of a catastrophic electoral defeat with ponderous recitations of what he insists are the historic, enduring achievements of New Labour, particularly of himself at the Treasury. While he did this his poll rating sank lower and lower, he was humiliated at one by-election after another and terrified, sullen rebellion simmered along the benches behind him.
And then came the credit crunch and Northern Rock and Lehman and, across the Atlantic, in the financial fortress of 21st century capitalism, the fall of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Suddenly all those precariously mortgaged homes and image-boosting loans ceased to be symbols of comfort; they disintegrated into menace.
There was talk of 21st Century South Seas Bubble. Gordon Brown would not, in public at any rate, have called it luck, and neither would anyone with so much as a glimmering about the chaotic workings of the property based system, but the timing of it for him was – well, lucky. Apparently transformed in personality, he coined the phrase, as the climax of his conference speech, which summed up his hope for survival: “Take it from me, this is no time for a novice”.
This was said in the knowledge that Brown would have no problem, in finding and naming the villains who have fed off the groundless dreams of unsuspecting wage earners until the whole diseased edifice of lies and fraud came crashing down. There were enough of them – the bankers, the financiers, the traders in the City whose ideas of a hard, constructive day’s work has been pushing other people’s money around on paper and betting on the movement, up or down, of share prices. Brown rubbed salt into their wounds when, as part of the package of state investment in the ailing banks, he ensured that certain City favourites were removed from the boardrooms. This was accompanied by Brown calling for “responsible” behaviour by the banks and then Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling calling in their top people to lean on them to pass on the 1.5 percent reduction in the Bank of England lending rate. More recently Brown has used that word again, demanding “a new, responsible approach”: by the credit card companies. “I think”, he said “we have got to bring the credit card industry (yes, they call it an ‘industry’) in to talk (yes, the call it ‘talk’) to them to join with us in establishing clear principles to apply to the costs people face on their existing debts”. And in case any bank should still not have understood Peter (sorry, Lord) Mandelson will be meeting them to draw up a “guide on behaviour” (yes, they call it ‘behaviour’).
There may be some questions about Mandelson’s suitability to instruct others in such a matter. He is, after all, the man who made himself famous by informing the City that New Labour are “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”. Then there was his cosying up to top Tory George Osborne on the yacht of the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who did not amass his fortune through considerate reticence towards his rivals. Lord Mayor’s Banquet Mandelson’s boss in Number Ten has a consistent record of sucking up to the overfed parasites of the City, when mellowed by a slap-up
Lord Mayor’s banquet.
There was a time when Brown would make some kind of obscure, ineffective point by refusing to wear the traditional evening suit at this event, turning up in a work-a-day lounge suit. Now that he is Prime Minister he does sartorially as he is told – although he looks far from comfortable in black tie and tails and in any case says roughly the same as before. Here he is in 1998: “London is a city that is creative and responds to change. It has excelled because of the hard work and skills of the workforce and these are the essential British qualities – creativity, adaptability, a belief in hard work, fair play and openness”. In recent times his sycophancy has been more open: in 2005 he blathered “For three centuries … your enterprise as businesses, your unique innovative skills, your courage and steadfastness and your outward looking internationalism have …helped Britain lead the rest of the world”. And last June, as the recession was stirring, quite obviously, into life: “Britain needs more of the vigour, ingenuity and aspiration that you already demonstrate. Thanks to your remarkable achievements we have the huge privilege to live in an era that history will record as the beginning of a new Golden Age”. In fact Brown’s Golden Age was ushering in what is expected to be the widest deepest, most destructive slump since the 1930s. While Brown was bowing and scraping to the City it was at the centre of a veritable culture of mis-selling, over-mortgaging workers’ homes and tempting workers to take on loans which they simply could not afford to repay.
When the South Sea Bubble burst in 1720 a number of the people who were considered responsible, including Chancellor of the Exchequer John Aisable, were sent to the Tower and part of their estate was taken to help the company back into business. There is no need to go quite so far; there would be no point in punishing Mandelson and Brown and the rest for capitalism’s brutal chaos.