Trust in politicians is reaching an all time low. I remember a time when they were revered. Now, despite there being many politicians of principle and conscience (generally the unsuccessful ones), it’s a tainted profession. When did it start – the expenses scandals, all those MPs flipping their houses? Was it the child abuse cover-ups? The lies that led us into unwinnable wars for economic reasons? Maybe the abuse of the Lords, peerages for donors and failed friends?
Now stories are emerging of sexual harassment cover-ups. It’s hard not to conclude that despite its architectural splendour, Westminster is rotten to the core and an unfit system of governance in this new age.
Everyone I know who entered politics did so for the right reasons and to fight for a cause. I guess this must be the case for most politicians but some seem to quickly sacrifice their principles for greater power. We are all becoming used to blatant lies during elections and referenda, and we almost accept that there is nothing we can do when political promises are broken.
Have we collectively lost our ability to be outraged by the blatant double-standards and democratic injustice that defiles our democracy? Well I got my outrage back this week. Gordon Brown has a new book out and in it he claims the bankers who caused the collapse in 2007 should have been jailed. And that we were taken to war in Iraq having been lied to by the USA (Brown of course says he didn’t know this at the time – funny how everyone else did!)
Brown himself however, was as complicit in the banking failure as any banker – possibly more so – and in that vein he is also “accusing the Conservatives of being too soft on bankers since taking office in 2010”. What about the politicians that undid all the banking regulations which stopped the banks going bust, should they be jailed?
He was the Labour chancellor for 10 years and prime minister for two years before the crash and he radically extended the deregulation that Thatcher had introduced. Calling for bankers to be jailed is nothing more than Brown trying to reinvent himself as a man in tune with public opinion, when in fact under his influence the Labour Party became a party of neo-liberalism and moved to the right of even the Tory governments that had preceded him.
Ignoring the fact that as PM, Brown actually had the power to promote the jailing of the bankers and did nothing. Of course, we need to consider that to actually prosecute anyone you have to prove beyond doubt that they were a) committing a crime and b) and knew that was the case. However, Brown was encouraging reckless behaviour and rewarding it with knighthoods and gongs for services to banking. Any banker in the dock would just be able to point at Brown and say “I was just doing what he told one to do”.
If a mechanic takes the brakes off a car who do you blame most, the driver for going too fast and crashing, or do you blame the mechanic for making the car unsafe?
Brown’s double-standards are outrageous by any measure. At the Lord Mayor’s Luncheon in 2007, Brown positively egged on the city with what he said: “So I congratulate you Lord Mayor and the City of London on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London.”
Within months the city was going bust and not only did his policies help bankrupt the country and usher in austerity to pay for his mistakes, ironically he essentially gave them a get-out-of-jail-free card.
In his book he claims: “Little has changed since the promise in 2009 that we bring finance to heel. The banks that were deemed ‘too big to fail’ are now even bigger than they were.”
But he forcefully merged Lloyds TSB and BOS Halifax to create a mega-bank as part of his bailout deal. Brown is the undisputed king of post-rationalisation or, if you prefer, delusional rewriting of history with himself as the saviour of the financial world.
He has form. In 2005 he said “So, against a background of mounting uncertainty and instability in the global economy, we set about establishing a new economic framework to secure long-term economic stability and put an end to the damaging cycle of boom and bust”. Now that actually might be considered prophetic if you think he meant his policies would usher in a perpetual bust, but I don’t think he meant that.
Speaking to the Daily Mail in 2008 he claimed “What I actually said was – an end to Tory boom and bust”. I have checked the actual text – no he didn’t – he is delusional, and anyway boom and bust cycles were completely unaffected by whether left or right was in power.
Back to his luncheon speech, he said: “And I believe it will be said of this age, the first decades of the 21st century, that out of the greatest restructuring of the global economy, perhaps even greater than the industrial revolution, a new world order was created.”
Months later the golden age of finance was dead, and on his watch. So was it the expenses scandal, cash for questions?
No, it was the inadequacy of Gordon Brown as a chancellor and prime minister that ushered in the collapse of the state as a credible institution, where respect for the political elites was undermined as they were exposed as all at sea in the face of a crisis they didn’t understand and couldn’t see coming.
Brexit, unaffordable housing, rising inequality, austerity and the rise of extreme groups in politics are all simply the inevitable consequences of Brown’s inadequacies and however he tries to reinvent history, that hard truth will remain.
However, just as his speeches may have been accidentally prophetic, the global financial collapse could accidentally yet turn out to be greatest opportunity in economic history. It was the moment that the neo-classical economic orthodoxy was broken, when leading thinkers started to question if there wasn’t a better way.
Like a forest fire clearing the way for new growth, heterodox ideas such as sovereign money, crypto currencies, collective budgeting, basic income and solid state economics have come to the fore to challenge the failed left/right spectrum and introduce a pluralistic approach to economics that will be truly sustainable and fit for this century. If that happens, however, Brown will probably publish a book called ‘How I Saved The World From Politicians Like Me’.