Oberon Houston: Gordon Brown and the real New Labour project
In this, my fifth contribution to ‘Your Platform’, I have again decided to dedicate a piece to Gordon Brown. Whilst the recent pensions raid scandal emerging around the Chancellor will be uncomfortable for him, it is interesting that it has taken so long for this story to surface, and that this is the only one to emerge from a large number of unsavoury episodes our Chancellor has been deeply involved in. In this piece, I will explain that this is because our probable future Prime Minister employs ruthless and dishonest tactics to manage the news agenda around him, and it is this system of manipulation and duplicity that is the real essence of the New Labour project, typified by Gordon Brown.
Prior to gaining office, Brown created an inner circle of lieutenants around him to ensure tight security and to insulate himself from the disreputable black arts he was to employ to gain and then underpin his power in government. He recruited, at the recommendation of Peter Mandelson, Charlie Whelan as his press spokesman. With a public school education, and a poor politics degree from the City of London Polytechnic, Whelan started his career as a foreign exchange dealer in the City, but a year later he adopted a cockney accent and went to work for the AEUW as a researcher. A member of the communist party for fifteen years until 1990, the raffish Whelan was perfect for Gordon. He set about mercilessly manipulating the press and instigating Brown’s dirty tricks agenda. Ken Clarke, when Chancellor, was one of the first to suffer from the underhand use of leaks used to destabilise the Conservatives. His private correspondence to European commissioners was leaked to the Sunday Times and a total of twenty nine embargoed budget press releases were leaked to the Mirror newspaper. Jill Rutter, the Treasuries official spokesman, enthused that Whelan was;
“Doing a great if disreputable job. His Guerrilla tactics are creating problems for us all the time. The leaks are spun in a damaging way for the government”.
With feigned sincerity Brown commented that;
“Nobody can condone the leaking of sensitive budget matters the day before a budget.”
Once in office, Brown was determined to manipulate the system to ensure he would not fall victim to the leaks he used so effectively against the Tories. To do this he would set about completely controlling the news agenda around him. Prior to his arrival, the Treasury considered its relationship with the press to be restricted to the minor but necessary task of releasing carefully checked statistics and figures into the public domain, but to the incoming Brown, the press was a weapon to attack opponents, conceal mistakes, and protect his reputation. Treasury officials quickly found themselves sidelined and ‘external advisors’ were instead recruited to manage policy implementation, full-scale politicisation of the civil service was underway. Brown eliminated any potentially damaging paper trail by installing his principal economics advisor, Ed Balls, in an adjacent office and communicated with him directly or electronically using floppy disks. He held regular daily conversations with Tony Blair, but in a break with convention, the historic practice of allowing officials to listen to and take notes was dismissed by them both as ludicrous. Gordon Brown had no intention of being held to account by anyone. Once elected and installed as Chancellor, Brown was presented with a state of the nations finances with what Treasury officials described as a ‘fantastic set of figures’, this he immediately resented, and began plotting to mis-represent the facts to bolster his position, undermine the Conservatives, and remove from the record any credit they could legitimately claim.
Brown began by repeatedly using the slogan ‘black hole’ to describe what he was faced with on arrival in office. Setting about his first budget speech he then described his inheritance as “instability, underinvestment, unemployment, and a waste of talent.” He then manipulated the first economic statement issued from the Treasury whilst under his control. On his instructions, the public would be given less information about taxation, Treasury spending tables would be removed and replaced with analysis damming the Conservative legacy, and he also ordered that the strong growth of the economy should be concealed from the public so that he could claim the credit.
This gives some indication of the real Gordon Brown, and the story surrounding the pensions scandal is another, but by no means exceptional, example. But to understand the pension tax story properly, one needs to start with a broader view of the situation. Once in office, Brown set about implementing the biggest change to the welfare system for generations. He admired the system of ‘tax credits’ that Clinton had introduced in the United States, and set about introducing them in Britain. The attraction to Brown was that the cost of tax credits, unlike benefits, could be concealed from the welfare budget, additionally the high cost of implementation would be principally borne by employers. But the principal attraction was that the recipients would be increasingly dependant on the state for their income, which appealed greatly to Brown’s fondness for social engineering and controlling the way people live and behave.
Tax credits, however, would only form one half of his eye-catching flagship initiative, the other was the ‘New Deal’, a vastly expensive, and ultimately unsuccessful, benefit to work scheme. His real dilemma however was paying for this without overtly increasing taxation, but he had already worked out how to do this before even gaining office. At this point we need to introduce Geoffrey Robinson to the picture, another of Brown’s trusted lieutenants and a handy bankroller too. A millionaire businessman and Labour MP close to Brown for many years, Robinson had an interesting past that included receiving £200,000 from Robert Maxwell for signing off the accounts of a business that was going into liquidation (he also failed to register this income as was required in the House of Commons). Rather more conventionally, Brown also received legitimate but significant sums of money from Maxwell, writing self promoting propaganda for the Mirror’s sister paper the ‘Daily Record’ in Scotland. Brown had closely associated himself with Robinson, a businessman who was busy opening secret Swiss bank accounts, undeclared to the Inland Revenue, whilst employed by British Leyland and who held large amounts of cash in secret offshore tax havens. Significant amounts of this money would be offered to Brown whilst in opposition to covertly employ accountants from the firm ‘Arthur Anderson’ to devise ways of raising stealth taxes to pay for pet schemes like New Deal (Andersen’s you may recall were the infamous accountants for the Enron Corporation). As a result of this work, a windfall tax on the utility companies was neatly combined with, here we go, the abolition of tax credits for pension funds to raise the money Brown required for his vastly expensive, and ultimately unsuccessful, New Deal scheme. Despite detailed and convincing advice that this was a bad idea, Brown needed the money. To him a pension was money the state handed out to poverty stricken people in Labour constituencies like in his home town Kirkcaldy. In his mind, hard working Middle Englanders honestly trying to save for their future retirement were disregarded as unimportant.
Gordon Brown exemplifies the New Labour project, a project that has done nothing for the people of Britain, except deliver a new way of functioning in Government. A system that relentlessly employs lies, dirty tricks, falsehoods and emotional blackmail to ensure power by misrepresentation. Gordon Brown seeks to relentlessly project himself as a good honest man, a great Chancellor, and an even greater future Prime Minister. The reality is very different and very ugly. Recent events have hardly touched on the levels of dishonesty this man has projected whilst in office. If you are interested in really finding out about Gordon Brown, I strongly urge you to read his biography by Tom Bower, the source for the material here, and a book that should be compulsory reading for all Conservative Party activists dedicated to defeating New Labour.