12 months of drift, dither and failure

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, and what a pretty hopeless year it has been – in 7 key areas, all we have seen is failure:
* Brown has failed to bring an end to Labour’s assault on civil liberties
* Brown has failed to grasp the nettle on climate change
* Brown has failed to break open the poverty trap
* Brown has failed to give power back to the people
* Brown has failed to restore Britain’s international reputation
* Brown has failed to deliver economic stability
* Brown has failed to deliver competent government

I think the summary of the past year (below) produced by the Liberal Democrats sort of sums up a year of the Labour Prime Minister’s drift, dither and failure:

How did it all go so horribly wrong for Gordon Brown?

It seemed to start so well. On June 27th 2007, Brown swept into office as Prime Minister in charge of a party that had crowned him unopposed as leader. Labour was comfortably ahead in the polls, the new PM’s personal ratings were high, and his promise to govern more inclusively, more humbly, and with a focus on substance rather than spin won him widespread praise. After 10 years of planning (and being Deputy PM in all but name) it was widely believed that no Prime Minister could ever have been better prepared for the office.

Reviews in the early months were generally good. In particular his immediate response to the terrorist attacks, severe flooding and foot and mouth outbreaks which hit Britain during the summer of 2007 was seen as statesmanlike and showing his experience, and compared favourably to the inexperience of the Conservative leader and those who might have challenged him for the Labour leadership.

Yet very soon things began to fall apart. The election-that-never-was marked the end of Brown’s honeymoon. The man who had previously cultivated a reputation as strong and decisive was spectacularly exposed as a ditherer. And a man unwilling, or unable, to admit what everybody could see, that it was a turn for the worse in the opinion polls which had led to his decision to cancel the planned election.

“The House has noticed the Prime Minister’s remarkable transformation in the past few weeks from Stalin to Mr. Bean, creating chaos out of order, rather than order out of chaos.”
Vince Cable to Gordon Brown, at PMQs (28th November 2007)

Worse was to follow, and it came rapidly. The headline of the Comprehensive Spending Review was a smash and grab raid on recently announced Conservative inheritance tax policies. It came across as the action of a party that had lost its way and which would do anything to stay in power. It was a victory for political opportunism over principle.

Lost data discs, containing information on every child in the country, were just the largest of a succession of record keeping and processing blunders which stripped away public confidence in Labour’s administrative competence. And then came months of dither and delay over the future of Northern Rock. Three months of resistance to nationalisation of the bank ending with the announcement that Northern Rock would, after all, be taken into public ownership.

Brown’s, and Labour’s, reputation for economic competence, painstakingly built up over the previous 15 years, was wrecked in a few short months as the regulation of the financial system, which Brown had put into place as one of his first acts as Chancellor, was shown to be utterly inadequate. While at the same time it became increasingly clear that the wider economic stability which was Brown’s proudest boast was turning into a slowdown, and maybe even a recession, with unemployment rising, house prices falling and overall economic growth stagnating.

However it was probably the decision to scrap the 10p income tax starting rate which did most to shatter public confidence in Brown. This self-inflicted wound led to angry party rows and showed Labour to be divided and fractious. Brown’s initial refusal to budge on the issue and his claims that no one would be worse off under the measure flew in the face of the evidence. His handling of it showed him to be a Prime Minister out of touch with the people and who did not feel the pain ordinary people did at a time of a rapidly rising cost of living. Worst of all, as an assault on the pockets of people on low incomes, it destroyed completely Brown’s claim that he stood for social justice.

“How many more Northern Rocks can there be? Look at the situation with fuel prices, the non-doms and the 10p tax band. Gordon has committed spectacular own-goals and the public is punishing him for it.”
Labour MP Derek Wyatt, quoted in Daily Mail, 3 May 2008. Wyatt also described the local election results as Brown’s “John Major moment”.

The panic that followed the dire local election results for Labour infected Brown as much as it did the rest of the Labour Party. The emergency budget was a humiliating u-turn for the Prime Minister whose claims of prudence and running a tight economic ship have been completely blown apart. For a decade, Labour attempted to paint their opponents as irresponsible with public finances. But now it is Gordon Brown who has the record of reopening budgets he said could not be reopened, and of borrowing vast sums of money to pay for panic measures.

Decisiveness. Principle. Administrative competence. Economic competence. Fairness. Social justice. Prudence. All qualities Gordon Brown worked hard to associate himself with during his 10 years as Chancellor. But for which 12 months of his premiership has comprehensively flattened any reputation that he might have had.

In the course of a year, Brown has gone from being the Iron Chancellor to the Great Ditherer. He has squandered his poll leads and performed disastrously at the ballot box. He promised to be the saviour of the Labour Party after the disillusionment of the late Blair years, but he has witnessed the fastest meltdown ever in a PM’s approval ratings – a steeper decline even than Neville Chamberlain in 1940.

Gordon Brown promised much when he came into office as Prime Minister. But he has failed to deliver. He has not ended spin. He has not restored trust. Britain is not getting fairer. And Britain is definitely not being better governed.

This is a Government without any clear sense of direction. 12 months into his administration, people are wondering more than ever: What does Gordon Brown stand for?

On the key issues for Britain today, Gordon Brown is not just failing to deliver, he is actually moving backwards.