Entry from April 14, 2010

Today’s Daily Telegraph headlines: “General Election 2010: Gordon Brown admits his mistakes added to financial crisis.” Readers are apparently ready to see this as a major concession because, up until now, “the Prime Minister has steadfastly blamed the crisis on the failure of American regulators and international watchdogs.” But when you look more closely at the story, the alleged admission of mistakes all but disappears. Now, we are told, Mr Brown admits that he himself could and should have been a tougher regulator of the banks when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. The story in The Times brings this aspect of the admission to the fore and so changes the emphasis slightly by noting how “Gordon Brown came under fire today for his admission that, as Chancellor, he was not tough enough in reining in the excesses of the City.”

Here are the Prime Minister’s words, according to the same paper: “In the 1990s, the banks. They all came to us and said ’Look, we don’t want to be regulated, we want to be free of regulation’. All the complaints I was getting from people was ’Look, you’re regulating them too much’. And, actually, the truth is that globally and nationally we should have been regulating them more. So I’ve learnt from that. So you don’t listen to the industry when they say ’This is good for us’. You’ve got to talk about the whole public interest.” If that’s an admission of wrong-doing, it is hardly being given in a spirit of penitence. It sounds more as if he is saying, “That’s the trouble with me: I’m too nice, too kind to people, too understanding and lenient with those who are (of course) the real culprits — namely the banks.” As The Guardian put it, “In an ITV interview due to be broadcast tonight, Brown admits he had been influenced by bankers’ lobbying.” So who is more to blame? He or the bankers?

Yet, not too surprisingly, the opposition parties seem disposed to treat this as a major concession on Mr Brown’s part. “The Tories described the admission — in a television interview to be broadcast this evening — as extraordinary,” writes Philippe Naughton in The Times. They “said it should serve as a warning to voters that Britain could not afford five more years of Labour government.” But they have to spin it that way, since, looked at more closely, the supposed confession of fault is really a backhanded swipe at them. “Brown said he had been under pressure from the Conservatives to make the regulation even lighter,” wrote The Guardian reporter.

If so, however, they appear to be exerting no such pressures today. On the contrary, electoral considerations are all in favor of more regulation and, unlike American, small-c conservatives, the Tories apparently feel no ideological constraints against saying what everyone else is saying about those wicked bankers. They’re all for more regulation — of banks or anything else. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is trying to pin what the media and many in the British political class still see as the doctrinaire, “Thatcherite” label on the opposition, but under David Cameron that is very far from being the case — which is one reason why so many British, small-c conservatives are disenchanted with him.

And maybe the electorate too. The same day’s paper brings news that the Tory lead in the polls over Labour has slipped to only three points, which would put it within the margin of error. Mr Naughton points to polling data suggesting that a majority of Britons would actually prefer to have a hung Parliament, with neither party having an overall majority. This would be a great deal more problematical in a Parliamentary system than it is in America, where divided government has often been the norm in the last 30 years. That people might want it anyway may be a reflection of disenchantment with the political process itself — including the fact that both parties are saying pretty much the same things while politicians are forced to be so mealy-mouthed that even an ostensible confession of fault is actually an attack on the other side.

Discover more from James Bowman

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Similar Posts