Sunday, December 03, 2006

Brown plans to rearrange deck chairs on Titanic

Well, that's my take on this article in today's Observer by Will Hutton. Obviously Will Hutton seems impressed, I think that by this stage you can tell I am not.

Amongst Browns plans he wants to split the Treasury into two, one part responsible for economics but also taking trade and productivity from the DTI (DTI to go by the way) and finance, tacking the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise (all in one now anyway) and government spending.

Allegedly this will allow him to control economic policy better and then he can blame low productivity growth in the last 10 years on the structures of government. Never mind the fact that previous governments have had better productivity growth with the very same structures, he would like to rearrange the deckchairs all the same.

I suspect there are two real motivations behind this proposal. The first must be obvious. Brown does not want to be hamstrung in the way Brown has hamstrung Blair over the last 9 years. Brown wants no Brown as Chancellor, so make sure there is no Chancellor and there is no possibility of that. Prime Ministers before Blair would have just sacked Brown for being a pain and not following orders and in fact they have. It seems that as chancellor Brown had a unique position. His long service in the job is more down to the loyalty of his own supporters and keeping Blair at bay then to how he has done the job.

The other motivation is that some politicians, particularly on the left love to think that what ever was there is wrong and must be changed and they will leave their mark on history by doing it.

There is of course a fundamental problem with separating economics from government finance, and that is this: Government spending at anything like its current rate (and no one is likely to change that) has an enormous effect on the economy and economics in general. There is a huge danger in separating the two off is that policy between the two will be less joined up then it currently is.

Will Hutton does note that Harold Wilson tried this game in 1964 and within 5 years the Treasury had sunk it. Hutton contends that Brown knows more about the Treasury than anyone else so can make it stick. The problem with this thesis is that it assumes Brown is around in 5 years.

He also wants to lock in economic stability, don't we all? What can he do that can't be changed and undone by another government and is this just some wheeze to pass the buck if the wheels fall off the economy whilst he is still PM?

Apparently he wants to move the Attorney General out of politics. I wonder if he has ever asked himself the question "why is the Attorney General in politics?" because if he had he would appreciate the political accountability it gives.

Also there is a bit of kite flying like making the NHS independent, presumably so the government can avoid the blame, and setting up a body to advise on fiscal policy, spending and tax, so he can shrug his shoulders if there are unpopular things to do.

You would of course have to wonder how this country has copped without Brown as PM.

You can of course read more on Gordon Brown's record here.

We of course wait with baited breath to see what Gordon Brown comes up with in his pre budget report next Wednessday.

Hat tip to Arb Seeker on for pointing the Observer article out.

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