Now there’s only a week to go of Tony Blair (breathe a sigh of relief) we have to look forward to see what his replacement, Gordon Brown, will be like.
I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. One of his first moves when becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer was to make the Bank of England independent of political control. That was a master stroke. Ever since then, the British economy has been booming. With interest rates now set not by political considerations but according to monetary need, he both simplified the job and gave the City something they wanted too. Stability.
While Tony Blair has become one of the country’s longest serving Prime Ministers, Gordon Brown has been one of the longest serving Chancellors. This has probably annoyed the heck out of the Civil Servants in the Treasury as suddenly here was a politician who was in his job longer than most of them were in theirs. This meant he ran the Treasury, the Treasury Civil Servants didn’t run him. If you’ve ever seen “Yes, Minister” you’ll know how important that is.
As Chancellor, he also gets to know all about every other department through their finances. Now, he probably won’t know all their dirty laundry, but he will have a good idea of how the different departments try to run their ministers. And they do try, of course. That’s what the Civil Service does. Runs the country. The politicians usually just take the blame.
Gordon Brown is the son of a Scots Minister, and grew up in a manse. He is said to possess a strong set of moral values. Well, Tony Blair had a strong set of religious values, and that got him (and the country) into some trouble in Iraq. So, will this be Gordon’s Achilles heel? I think not; after all, he didn’t actually become a minister himself, but a conviction politician.
So what has he done for people, apart from make the Bank independent? In 10 years a Chancellor can do a lot of things, but one of the most useful I believe was the introduction of the Tax Credit system. OK, he had to plunder pensions to do that, and has significantly complicated much of the fiscal system during his tenure in his efforts to redistribute wealth. And yet the middle classes have prospered with huge increases in property values.
With regard to the invasion of Iraq, that was clearly Tony’s thing. That all began at that fateful meeting with George Bush at his ranch in Crawford Texas when George Bush said they “prayed together” before they went to Iraq to prey together.
Gordon was a part of the cabinet, and I guess he’s a fiercely loyal person. At least he gives that impression. I trust him where I don’t trust Tony. But that’s because I don’t think he’ll be taken in by George Bush like Tony was. He’s too stolid, too firm for that. He’s the kind of person the George and Tony gang would have picked on as schoolboys, but I guess they’d not have done it twice. But I digress.
In Cabinet, everyone takes collective responsibility. That means, even if you vote against something, if the majority do vote for it, you support it in public. That’s why people such as Robin Cook and Claire Short went back to the back benches. So they can live with clear consciences again. Well, sort of. So, whenever Gordon didn’t agree with Tony, because there were of course many Tony yes men in the cabinet we’d probably not get to know about such disagreements.
So, I’m looking forward to the next 6 months. We’ll see what Gordon really wants to do. We’ll see who he picks for Chancellor, as well as a lot of other choice positions. But we won’t be seeing Tony Blair.
Gordon has said many times there is a lot of wasted talent not being used, and only this week asked Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell if he would mind if he made Paddy Ashdown and another Liberal Democrat a Minister in his government. Considering he has quite a big majority in Parliament, he needn’t have made this offer, and although it appears it was rejected at the moment, it does show he is willing to think differently and, more importantly, act differently to his predecessor.
I’m looking forward to some quite creative solutions to Britain’s problems, tinged with not a little Scottish thrift. Roll on next week!