He is blamed for the financial crisis, but his new book sets the record straightby Vince Cable / November 9, 2017 / Leave a comment
It is the victors who get to write history. The Tudor version of history has a narrative in which Richard III is a murderous villain rather than a Yorkist hero. After Gordon Brown lost the 2010 Election, the Tories managed to portray him as the Richard III of modern economic history: a flawed anti-hero who committed political murder to get to the top and then plunged the country into economic chaos.
But, unlike Richard III, Gordon Brown wasn’t executed on the battlefield and has lived to tell his own version of history in his new book, My Life, Our Times and it is pretty convincing. I write those words as someone who tried to provide a balanced and nuanced account of the financial crisis which was drowned out in the battle-cries of tribal political conflict.
It is a decade since the emergence of the credit crunch that spiralled into a global financial crisis. For the previous 10 years, the economic sun was shining. The economy was growing briskly by past standards and in comparison with the rest of the western world. The government’s fiscal coffers were replenished from taxes from rising incomes and, in particular, from a buoyant financial services sector. Public services expanded on the back of strong revenue. The debate about Gordon’s legacy is about whether he should have seen the storm coming and prepared for it and how he reacted when the rain fell in torrents.
I was Liberal Democrat economic spokesman during the boom years. I worried and warned at the time that Gordon’s claim to have produced the best growth performance since the Hanoverians was unsustainable and hubristic. Only a limited acquaintance with economic history suggested that the debt fuelled asset bubble in the housing market was dangerous and would end in tears. The egregious behaviour of many bankers and the recklessness of both their household lending and gambling in the casinos of investment banking were, regrettably, overlooked both in the Brown Government and the Conservative opposition. The latter, lest we forget, argued that banks were regulated too lightly rather than too tightly. There is a legitimate criticism of Gordon Brown that he missed the signs of impending financial disaster but it is not a criticism that Conservatives did or could make.