The weekend debate: What if Gordon Brown Were Still Prime Minister?

Here’s your starter for ten in our weekend slot where we throw up an idea or thought for debate…

Over at the New Statesman Guy Lodge has posed the question, ‘What if … Gordon Brown was leading the Eurozone crisis?’, and come up with quite a flattering answer for our former Prime Minister.

He believes that Gordon Brown would have shown more leadership than David Cameron and George Osborne in the Eurozone crisis, and crucially would have more credibility to deal with Nicolas Sarkosy and Angela Merkel.

Is he right?

What if the Lib Dems had propped up Gordon Brown in those fateful days after the last election and we now had a minority Lib-Lab Coalition?

Would the markets have stomached it? Would any of the cuts we’re making be different? And would we be better placed to help lead the Eurozone out of crisis?

Let us know what you think…

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29 Comments

  • Would he deal better with the crisis than Cameron/Osborne…Well he couldn’t do worse.
    His reaction to the crisis was, perhaps, his best ( if his only) moment of real statesmanship.

  • @George Kendall, the thing about Ed Balls, for all the propaganda spewed out against him by right wing publications and to a lesser extent by disgruntled Blairites, is that his economic predictions about Osborne’s policies have proved correct.

    A Labour government with Ed Balls as Chancellor would likely be more of a success than the current situation. Also, Labour aren’t implacably and stupidly opposed to the EU and Europe so would be taken more seriously by them.

    The thought of the fate of the European economy resting on a David Cameron charm offensive towards the Germans is horrific, decades of Tory bile spewed out against Europe and tabloid bile against the Germans would leave him lacking any influence whatsoever, as is indeed the case.

  • g – A Balls plan might have resulted in a short-term recovery but like all Keynesian spending splurges would only have delayed the inevitable crash. What we have under Osborne is unsatisfactory but what is necessary is not politically possible: a second recession to wipe out all remaining bad investments made during the boom, from which we can have a proper long-term recovery.

  • Gordon Brown wouldn’t still be Prime Minister. The maths of a Lib Dem+Labour+everyone else coalition would have been so unstable that it would have fallen apart at the first controversial vote as the “margin” for any rebellion is very limited. Look at the plans Balls has now – it introduces WorkFare and has no plans to reverse any revenue spending cuts – indeed as the 5 point plan has about £8bn of additional net spending its hard to see how it could.

    Workfare, the same cuts programme, backing the reforms to public sector pensions – do you think that would happen without enough Labour rebellions to bring down a 4+ party coalition?

  • Assuming That Gordon Brown could be propped up, pretty much the same as now, but with lower inflation. The Lib Dems would have been much stronger, gaining seats and new members rather than leeking them. . It’s possible that tuition fees could have been scrapped or reduced., Electoral reform may even have got more of a push because the Labour Party has more fellow travellers. The Tories would have sacked Cameron and disolved into it’s usual squabbles about Europe and sent ministers to bob up and down whilst making rude noises in the press. The fact is the Lib Dem leadership blew their best chance of real influence and power. A lot of Labour voters and party members wanted pretty much the same thing as Lib Dem voters and actavists. Personally, I suspect the big fear in some circles was that Labour might swallow the Lib Dems in a much closer relationship.

  • …………………Frankly, when I consider this alternative universe, Labour should count their lucky stars that they didn’t win in 2010………

    What if Brown had acceded to Cameron’s demand for an Autumn 2007 election; and lost?
    The financial meltdown would have happened on ‘Cameron’s Watch’, Osborne’s response (judging by his performance so far) would have been indecisive…Labour would have been swept into power with a massive majority in 2010….and???????

  • “The Lib Dems would have been much stronger, gaining seats and new members rather than leeking them.”

    This is nonsense – we would have lost as much support from propping up Brown as we did from a Conservative coalition. In the aftermath of the General election I was monitoring a newly elected MPs email inbox. He had virtually the same number of emails saying “don’t do a deal with Brown/Labour” as he did saying “don’t do a deal with Cameron/Tories”.

    And it wouldn’t just have needed the Lib Dems and Labour to agree on a programme for government – it would have needed the SNP and Plaid as well. How would that have remained stable when faced with any controversy?

  • Hywel. good point. In my defence I said assuming Gordon Brown could be propped up. I don’t think he could.. I actually think that The Lib Dems should have ruled out a Coalition with the Conservatives and let them try ruling as a minority government. Gordon brown would not be leader of labour in the resultant snap election and I think there may have been another hung parliament with the centre left gaining not losing ground. If I’m honest,, I’.m fed up with watching politicians dump on their voters. This is what II think Blair did, what I think Brown did and what I think Clegg has done. The one thing I respect about the Tories is that they put the interests of their core support first. You don’t see tory MPs trying out left the left by attacking tax evasion, and the like. I think it’s obcene to see so-called progressive politicians bullying the poor and whining that people are living too long.

  • George, or we could say that under Labour’s plans the deficit would be lower than under the Tories’ revised plans (due to higher growth), or note that UK debt is of long-maturity, so refinancing amounts are low, or anything else, really as its fantasy world- your piece reads like one of those breathless Andrew Roberts’ counterfactual histories in which everything goes in one direction.

  • David Allen 20th Nov '11 - 1:12am

    “we can’t ask how he’d deal with the Eurozone crisis in isolation. We have to ask what sort of situation the UK would be in, if Brown were still PM”

    In other words, let’s try and get away from Guy Lodge’s awkward remarks about leadership, and let’s just give ourselves scope to slag off Labour, the way we have been trained to do, automaton-style.

    Actually, Lodge has a point. Brown, despite all those psychological flaws, did rather better than the present lot at cooperation, consensus, and tackling a financial crisis quickly and effectively. That does not say much for the present lot! They all seem quite happy to sit back, watch chaos develop, and then blame somebody else for it.

    Our own little contribution to the general unhelpful mood has been to eat our words about the Robin Hood Tax and cheerfully agree with Cameron that Britain should refuse to do anything so helpful. What would be much more productive would be to say that if the Germans and French would do helpful things like beefing up the ECB bail-out funds, Britain could do something helpful in exchange.

    Incredibly, it seems that our wonderful Coalition can’t even match Gordon Brown’s personal capabilities when it comes to cooperation (and, generosity of spirit, bonhomie, human warmth, relaxed smile, etc…!)

  • What if the Lib Dems had propped up Gordon Brown in those fateful days after the last election and we now had a minority Lib-Lab Coalition?

    That is a different question to the one Lodge asked: his counterfactual had Brown as head of the IMF.

    To judge from Greece, Italy and Spain, a Brown government would still have had to make spending cuts comparable to the Cameron government. However, Cameron launched those cuts after spending a couple of years saying that they had to be made. Brown would be launching comparable cuts after spending a couple of years saying that there was a choice between Labour “investment” and Tory cuts. Probably Labours position in the polls would collapse, and the Lib Dems would be left propping up a government which was widely hated, universally considered treacherous, and which, even with Lib Dem support, lacked a majority in Parliament.

    I cannot believe that would end well for anyone but the next generation of Tories.

  • We said we would back the party that won the most support at the 2010 General Election. Can you imagine how we would have been punished if we had gone with Labour instead? It would have been like the tuition fees debacle yet 10 times worse.

  • David Allen 20th Nov '11 - 9:19pm

    Oranjepan, you’re right. That’s why it’s so shocking that Brown’s successors have under-performed him.

  • “Interest on government debt was pushing 4% at the election, and that was with a Darling plan and the expectation that this plan would be replaced by an even stronger Tory-led plan after the election. ”

    I’m not sure it was that certain – I think the markets were factoring in that rhetoric of strong action on the deficit was minimised because of the election but that all parties would take action. I think the manifesto projections are that the Tories planned (over 5 years) £96bn of cuts, us £82bn and Labour £81bn (ie nearly the same). And I think the coalition cuts total about £82bn.

    @Robert – our position was that we would talk first with the party with the strongest mandate – we didn’t rule out an eventual deal with the second placed party.

  • I think you’re in charge now, and you need to take responsibility. Gordon Brown was a terrible prime minister, and his light touch regulation of the City got us in this mess. However he is history, and you’re in government. So stop blaming Labour, the EU, Unions, coalition politics, the Easter bunny, and anyone else you can think of, for the state of the economy. Your no growth economic policies are failing, you’re not even reducing the deficit. They are also immoral, making the poor pay for a bailout for the rich in the City.

    It is no good blaming the Tories either, you are in government, and if you don’t have the ability to influence government policy, then there is no point voting for you. If you actually support these disastrous policies, then there is definitely no point voting for you.

  • George,

    What I have complained about, in the past, was when you didn’t quote my words, but instead gave your readers an inaccurate re-write, which you claimed, quite wrongly, was what I had said.

    What I did, above, was to quote your words verbatim, and then offer my own interpretation of what they implied. Now, your readers might or might not agree with that interpretation. However, I gave them all they needed to be able to form an independent judgement. I didn’t try to conceal anything. Do you see the difference?

    I am also happy to confirm that it was not a personal attack. You did not invent the idea that all Lib Dem communicators should be trained to include an automaton attack on Labour for creating the deficit, every single time they open their mouths. Somebody else did that. You did, however, set the tone for most of the posters who followed you. That’s why I chose your post to quote from. Of course you can say what you believe, whether I like it or not. Similarly, I shall continue to say what I believe.

    Labour made plenty of mistakes. However, I suspect the automaton attacks on Labour’s record will eventually prove counter-productive. Labour are gradually gaining the courage to boast about the things they didn’t get wrong, and to castigate us for blaming the past instead of sorting out the present. I expect that this will increasingly begin to resonate with the voters over the next few years. Rawnsley agrees, by the way!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/20/andrew-rawnsley-george-osborne-failing

  • @ Hywel

    “our position was that we would talk first with the party with the strongest mandate – we didn’t rule out an eventual deal with the second placed party.”

    Oh come on, that is such a ridiculously contorted interpretation you know it would have been held up to ridicule by the Tories and we would have lost vast swathes of voters as a result. Propping up a totally discredited government with 29% of the vote. How democratic would that have looked exactly?

  • Like so many, I am not as clever as Gordon Brown. But I am sure that the man who kept us out of the Eurozone and saved the banks from collapse would have done something much more intelligent than recommend “a big bazooka” and then fail to achieve any deal with other European leaders. Oh and by the way, I am sick of hearing Britain compared to Greece. Greece has always been a poor, debt-ridden country. In the past 180 years Greece has defaulted 5 times. When did Britain last default? Stop trying to scare us with imaginary ogres

  • I think that if Gordon Brown were sill PM he woul eat raw baby seals, whilst holding wet t-shirt contests in his solid gold pentouse. And almost certainly Satan would be stalking British streets imposing EU regulations about square oranges.

  • David Allen 21st Nov '11 - 1:33pm

    “David,
    it’s not the job of LibDems to apologise for Labour.

    For a fair-minded criticism you really should give more detail about ‘the things they didn’t get wrong’ – which were sweeping waste under the carpet, papering over cracks and draining all will to live. ”

    Er, why do I get this funny feeling that my response to this request might fall on rather deaf ears? Oh well, here goes anyway…

    Labour more or less kept their heads in a crisis. Their temporary VAT cut didn’t have the reflationary effect they were hoping for, but it did help to prevent panic and stop the economy grinding to a halt. They recognised that the deficit was largely caused by a private sector bust which had slashed their tax receipts. They didn’t rush off to force the poor to pay off the deficit. They also didn’t have enough courage to force the rich to do it instead, and their leader’s rhetoric was dreadful, but that’s another story.

    You see, I was a card-carrying party loyalist for many many years, cheering my team and booing the others, just like your typical football supporter (except that the footie people tend to be a little better at noticing when their own team is playing rubbish). Then the Cleggies came along, and I lost my “faith” in the Lib Dems. It’s liberating, don’t you see? It’s not just about Clegg and co any longer, it’s a question of getting back control of your own brain. So, now I can talk about Labour’s record in terms of shades of grey, not just black and white!

    In my defence, Lib Dems until recently weren’t just positioned in a different part of the political spectrum. They were also allowed a bit more independence of thought. Not really enough, but a lot more than they are these days, and rather more than their opponents.

    I’m inclined to blame George W Bush. His masterstroke was to repeat, ad nauseam, the total fabrication that Saddam Hussein was in league with Al Qaida. Eventually the great US public swallowed the lie. Spin doctors around the world marvelled at this success and learnt its lessons. Now our great Lib Dem party uses Bush tactics to demonise Labour. It’s bad for political life, because it serves as a substitute for real thinking. We need to acknowledge that Labour did some things right and some things wrong. If instead we replace complex reality with a simplistic blame-placing “analysis” of our economic condition, we shall assuredly get everything wrong.

  • Brown would’ve done better on the Euro crisis, but our spending would’ve continued to soar because Brown thought that Darling’s plan was too far and too fast and would’ve ditched it after the election. The Lib Dems would be in even more trouble than they are now because you don’t solve a debt crisis with more debt. Ignore the Labour lies that growth would be huge and jobs would be everywhere, we’d be heading the same way as Greece and co.

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