This is all starting to get a bit silly.
We have Cabinet members resigning and calling for the Prime Minister to go, a group of Labour MPs doing the same and now the Guardian, Labour’s staunchest ally in the press, is having a hysterical fit of the vapours too.
Just what do these Labour supporters think is going to happen? They couldn’t elect another leader without calling a general election which they would almost certainly lose. To boot Gordon Brown out, then, would be to remove Labour from power almost instantly.
At least if they stay the course they have some chance of limiting the damage. They might even have time to enact the electoral reform which everyone is suddenly so keen on and which might limit a Tory victory at the next election. At the very least, it looks as though an election a year from now will be held during a more favourable economic climate.
And therein lies the real tragedy. Just as everything is going to pot politically, it looks as though Brown and Darling’s recession strategy might actually be starting to work. There are signs that the economies of Britain and the US are starting to return to normal, by which I don’t mean that the recession is over, just that people are starting to invest again, rather than keeping their money in dollars or gold. Some data indicate an increase in business activity which bears out my anecdotal evidence from the past few weeks. Things are slowly but surely starting to move again.
How much of this can Gordon and Alistair take credit for? Probably quite a lot. When the history books come to be written by dispassionate academics, many years from now, Gordon Brown may well be remembered as the man who stopped the world recession becoming a depression. His model for bailing out banks, taking equity in return for the cash, was copied around the world and almost certainly prevented a number of banks from going bust. Without the bailout schemes. The banks were roped together like climbers on a mountain and, if a few had failed, many others would have been dragged down too taking the world economy with them.
And where were Brown and Darling’s rivals during the dark days of last autumn? Cameron and Osborne were left looking like a couple of graduate trainees, quoting theory from textbooks they’d half read and with no idea what to do next.
Which is pretty much where they still are. Brown and Darling made a huge error when they planned increases in public spending which they now can’t pay for. Neither is able to say much about how we are going to rein that spending back now that we won’t be able to afford it. But Cameron and Osborne, once again, don’t seem to have any ideas either. As the FT pointed out a fortnight ago, the IMF, the ratings agencies and others are not just worried because the government has no clear plan for curbing public spending; they are worried that nobody, including David Cameron, has any clear plan for curbing public spending.
I have no political axe to grind here. I don’t give a monkey’s about Brownites and Blairites or, for that matter, whether the government is Conservative or Labour. Like many people running businesses, I have found the last nine months or so very alarming and I would rather the weakly recovering economy were nurtured for the next year than plunged into political chaos. It doesn’t make sense to dump someone who seems to have at least some idea about what he is doing for someone who, at the moment, clearly doesn’t. Unless I see some compelling and coherent economic policies from the Cameron camp I see no reason to change my mind.
The decision to keep Alistair Darling in his job is an encouraging indication that the government is holding its nerve in the face of the ham acting from the Tories and their allies in the press and the screaming hysteria of many on the Labour side. Investors seem to agree as Sterling recovered after the announcement.
This is no time for buggering about. Politicos and hacks can have their fun but the government should ignore them. The most important task now is to help business recover so that the taxes start to flow again. Then the long slog of rolling back state spending will have to start. Most probably, it won’t be Gordon who takes that on but, right now, I can’t see anyone else doing it either.
Update: The Independent’s Stephen Foley reports from the US. American business leaders think we’re bonkers to be talking about getting rid of Gordon.
While the world is just tiptoeing out of this crisis, it looks simply perverse to ditch a leader who took his country unburned through that fire, and who is most engaged in the effort to prevent such a fire from igniting again.
The critical economic and financial challenges facing Britain will be tackled precisely in this arena of international co-operation and in the global markets. At a moment when the country seems poised to ditch him, his expertise seems more invaluable than ever.
Removing him is not just perverse. It looks a little dangerous, frankly. For a frenzied few minutes yesterday lunchtime, currency traders were seized by the notion that Brown was about to pre-empt his ouster by announcing his resignation, and the rumour sent the pound plunging.
There are very few politicians in the UK who are better placed than Gordon Brown to keep the confidence of financial markets. Certainly none of the candidates for prime minister in any party can match him.
The US has just ditched a dumb leader for a smart one. The UK looks from here as if it might be about to do the opposite.
In a rare twist, foreign business leaders and the financial markets prefer a Labour prime minister to a Tory one. Or perhaps it’s just that they prefer the old CEO to the polished trainee from the high-flyers’ management development programme. Whatever, the people who are going to work with us to get out of this recession and the people who are going to lend us the money to do it, for the moment at least, think we should stick with Gordon Brown.