Gales View (October 23rd 2008)
Prime Minister Brown has spent much of the past couple of weeks telling every forum open to him that the present economic crisis faced by the United Kingdom is a global phenomenon, implying that it has nothing to do with him, his administration or his stewardship, over the past eleven years, as Chancellor of the Exchequer and, subsequently, as First Lord of the Treasury.
This myth has clearly been propagated on the basis that if you tell the same half-truth often enough most people will believe it and, if opinion polls published at the weekend are anything to go by, it would appear that in the short term a majority has bought into this line.
This "spin" seems to me to be rather like watching a drunken motorist knock down and seriously injure a pedestrian and then congratulating that driver because he has somehow managed to stagger from his vehicle and summon a paramedic ambulance!
The fact is that the United Kingdom is arguably worse placed than most other European economies to deal with the financial services meltdown and that we have a higher level of personal debt than any other developed country. In other words, under New Labour and encouraged by Blair and Brown, we have bought far more on plastic than we can afford and we have looked to the soaring price of property as security for that debt. That the bubble would burst, as it has, was inevitable. Not a question of "if" but "when". The effects of this combination of falling property prices and negative equity, high personal borrowing and the failure of our banks and financial institutions to properly regulate have yet to filter down to their full impact upon everyday life.
The next few months are not likely to be pretty. The expectation is that housing repossessions will rise along with unemployment and that, as the recession that has at last been officially recognised bites, more small businesses, the lifeblood of our local and national economies, are likely to go to the wall. As I have said before, this is a circumstance Made in Britain and its author at present occupies Number Ten Downing Street.
It is certainly true that there is an equivalent economic downturn in the United States and that, also, is home-grown there. The effects of the collapse of US banks and markets are, of course, being felt around the world (although I have read little coverage of the likely and devastating effects upon developing countries) but it is quite wrong to suggest that the situation is quite as serious elsewhere as it is in the United Kingdom and the USA.
Gordon Brown has recently been caricatured as "Superman". Unfortunately, Superman is a work of fiction and Mr. Brown is not although his financial strategies and budgets have clearly owed a considerable amount to creative imagination! The same opinion poll that suggests that people have, for the moment, bought into the "global crisis" scenario also indicates that far from likening the Prime Minister with the Churchill to whom he would like to be compared they believe that he is more like Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister accused of appeasing Adolf Hitler.
It seems likely that Mr. Brown will face the history books as a Prime Minister who never faced and personally won an election - whenever in the next eighteen months that poll takes place. In the interim, however, I and my colleagues have to concern ourselves with the fallout of a busted "boom" and the impact that it is likely to have upon the lives and livelihoods, the homes of businesses locally, that we represent. That, in the run-up to winter, does not fill me with pre-Christmas cheer.