ONLY A PASSING CONNECTION WITH REALITY
by Daphne Liddle
TECHNICALLY it was a very good speech, well crafted and focused on most of the major concerns of the audience at the TUC annual conference in Liverpool on Tuesday.
But we have to remember that this is Gordon Brown and that for all his faltering and dissembling public persona he is a past master at smoke and mirrors and conjuring with financial statistics.
The story Gordon told us of how he had rescued Britain and the world from the worst depression since 1929 was beautiful but had only a passing connection with reality.
He began with a fulsome tribute to the late Jack Jones: International Brigader, trade union leader and pensioners’ leader. This was aimed to put his listeners in a good mood — so long as they did not remember that Brown and Blair not long ago regarded trade unionists as their enemy, never repealed
Tory anti-trade union laws and completely ignored pensioners’ demands for a restoration of the link between pensions and earnings, and everything else that Jack Jones fought for.
Then he related the story of the global financial collapse that began last year and his role in saving the world. And like a mediaeval ballad it had a recurring chorus: “Not the choice of our opponents but our choice; the choice of the British people.”
After the collapse of the Lehman Bank just a year ago, Brown said: “The reports I was looking at were as stark as they were serious: we were facing a situation that could have been worse than 1929.
And I knew then that it was going to have to be us, the government, that was going to have to step in directly and ensure whatever happened to the banks did not put at risk the savings of the British people, the mortgages households depended on, the credit that businesses need to maintain jobs, and thousands of jobs themselves.
“And it was here in Britain that we took the first steps to recovery. We had to make a big choice — whether to trust the banks when many said they simply had a cash flow problem — or whether there were structural failures that had to be addressed.
“We had another big choice: to leave the markets to sort it out for themselves or to intervene with radical and unprecedented action to sort them out.
“And we made our choice — taking majority shares of two of the biggest banks in the world, restructuring the banking system, and to prevent saves losing out, putting in place the biggest insurance policy that Britain has ever had.
“Fortunately — that is what other countries started to do also.” He went on to contrast his policies with the laissez-faire line that the Tories took in the 1980s, which led to unemployment over three million for well over a decade.
It sounded good but on Wednesday official figures showed that unemployment here and now is 2.74 million and rising fast.
“Our Conservative opponents said not to intervene, to let the recession to run its course. But we made the decision to offer financial support to businesses and to help homeowners and the unemployed.
“And I’ll tell you why we did so,” he continued, “because for me every redundancy is a personal tragedy. Every mortgage repossession is a hope destroyed. Every business collapse is someone’s dream in ruins. And where we can act we will not walk by on the other side.
“And as a result of taking action I can tell you over 200,000 businesses employing hundreds of thousands of people have been able to keep people in work.
“Not the choice of our opponents, but our choice, the choice of the British people.”
He claimed to have saved 500,000 jobs and helped 300,000 families in difficulties with their mortgage by giving them advice and changing the way the courts deal with repossessions. He did not say how many of these went on to lose their homes anyway; people facing repossession need more than advice and tinkering with the courts.
He boasted of plans to build 20,000 new council houses — a drop in an ocean of need and a policy that Labour should have adopted 12 years ago. Only this would have kept house prices low and dampened the orgy of borrowing, lending and speculating that soared out of control over the last decade and led to the great crash.
Such a policy would have put safe roofs over the heads of working class families but denied the fat cats their astronomical profits and bonuses.
He asserted that his Government will not follow the Tory line of making massive public spending cuts that will make the recession even worse but will keep public investment up.
Then he went on to admit that, if re-elected next year, his government will have to start making some cuts eventually.
He did not mention scrapping the ID card programme or the renewal of the Trident missile system — two cuts that TUC general secretary Brendan Barber had the previous day assured him would be welcomed by the people of Britain.
Instead he said he would cut civil servants’ redundancy compensation — a threat that drew an angry response from Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of civil service union PCS.
Brown’s record is one of rescuing the filthy rich bankers and throwing a few crumbs to the workers and pretending he has delivered us from a catastrophe he helped to create.
But he is right in one thing: the Tories will be much, much worse if they are elected next year.