As we await the EU election results with baited breath, the pressure is mounting on Gordon Brown to quit. Of course he must quit and, of course, there must be a general election as soon as is possible. The sense of drift and disintegration at the heart of Government is deeply damaging to this country. We need a new Government and, speaking as a loyal member of the Conservative Party for many years, we need a Conservative Government!
As the pressure on him to quit increases, so the tally of articles and leaked e-mails discussing his character defects increases. We hear of his temper, his intolerance of dissent, his character assassination, and his manipulative, scheming ways. Well there’s a surprise. There are many of us who have known about it for years.
Several years ago and when I was still Head of the Policy Unit at the IoD, I think it was in 2001, I was a member of the IoD’s team which went to see the Chancellor at the Treasury to discuss our Budget Representations. All went swimmingly until the Chancellor asked our Director-General what IoD members thought about his policies. The DG made a feeble response and handed the question over to me. I replied along the lines of “…some of your policies have been very well received – but others less so. The increased employment regulations, for example, can prove very difficult for small businesses.” “Which ones?” the Chancellor demanded. “Several. But the Working Families Tax Credit, and I understand your reasons for introducing it, can prove especially difficult.”
He blew up. No fuse. Just blew up. Didn’t I realise why he had introduced it (I’d just said that I did)? …didn’t I this? …didn’t I that? …didn’t I the other? And so this curious tirade went on for what seemed like an eternity. I have never encountered anything like it in my life and hope I never will again. The man was out of control. Then he suddenly took a grip on himself and we went back to discussing the Budget. Surreal. At the end of the meeting he turned to the DG and said that he was sorry he’d lost his temper. The DG graciously accepted the apology. The Chancellor ignored me.
I should have realised at this point that I had become ‘persona non grata’ at Gordon’s court. But I have to admit that I didn’t. Gordon’s court was, of course, a staggeringly influential one – all powerful. For domestic affairs he was the de facto ‘prime minister’ with much of the rest of Whitehall, including the DTI, vassal states.
As the months went by it was increasingly obvious that Government pressure was being put on the IoD “to cooperate, if not collaborate” with Government in order to be “influential”. It must stop being “political”, i.e. criticising the Government. The senior management were only too willing to comply and the DG, in particular, was evermore fulsome in his praise for the Chancellor. The 2002 Budget was a case in point. The DG welcomed it wholeheartedly despite the Chancellor’s decision to increase taxes on business by around £5bn in order to pay for his spending spree – a fact he conveniently overlooked! My presence at the IoD was increasingly inconvenient.
So I was sacked, amid rumours put around by the DG that I was “mentally unstable”. Nice one. I wonder where that idea came from! Fortunately there were many people, including those at the Centre for Policy Studies, who supported me at the time. I shall be eternally grateful to them.
The squalid little affair of my sacking, including the evidence I obtained through the Data Protection Act which proved the DTI’s involvement, was brilliantly reported by Peter Oborne in a couple of articles in May 2004. I have little to add, except two things. The first was that I asked the DTI for follow-up information through the Freedom of Information Act. My request was rejected on the grounds the information was classified. Speaking as an ex-civil servant this is simply not credible. And, secondly, the senior management of the IoD were well rewarded. The DG received his knighthood and the Chairman his OBE.
Doubtless politics has always had its dark side. But the depths to which it has sunk over the last 12 years under New Labour has been unprecedented in this country. Of all the legacies left by this Government the poisoning of political discourse is surely the worst. Gordon Brown, foul-tempered and intolerant, has been at the very centre of this mess.
Gordon Brown never was fit for Number 10 and, given the wreckage of the economy, the public finances and the financial regulatory system, was never fit for Number 11 either.