Published: 22 April 2010
by ILLTYD HARRINGTON
ABE Lincoln probably didn’t employ spin doctors, but what he said remains memorable and often timely: “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
It rings a bell.
Last week’s great TV election debate turned out to be as gloomy and time-wasting as an afternoon in Madame Tussauds. There, after their useful life, the models are melted down and resume more contemporary forms. Blair could end up as Beckham.
Stoically-faced Brown struggled in his bulky suit, a vision of inherited wealth fashioned in Eton and Oxford.
To me the boyish Nick Clegg resembled the kindly ad man who offers the housewife the correct washing powder for that muddy boy’s football kit.
In Broonland, Christopher Harvie, a political associate of Brown’s in 1970s Glasgow, raves and rants like John Knox – scandalising the sinful Mary Queen of Scots.
But it is all spiced up with fly wit and mischievous irony, not hiding accurate and palatable financial truths.
Brown leaves behind him a mythology in an uneasy society, racked by institutional corruption, political graft and greed. His one good eye, like Nelson’s, ignored the upcoming typhoon, but he remained deaf to any socialist solution.
Hesitantly, he partly nationalised the banks. In recent days, he admitted not being stringent enough with the Bank of England, the FSA and the Treasury. He watched as the Serious Fraud Office left court with slippery criminals declared innocent, or returned to the lucrative world of shadow banking.
Broonland is a devastating indictment of Blair and Brown’s inheritance and how they continued to sell off the family silver.
Harvie, now a Scottish nationalist, begins to unveil the florid saga of New Labour’s Dorian Gray, starting off in Kirkcaldy – a dour, but busy kingdom within Scotland since the 13th century.
Gordon served his apprenticeship amongst the notorious mafioso of Scottish Labour. A new, more powerful monarch appeared in the shape of Rupert Murdoch, who Blair and Brown were a little too obsequious towards. When he was not wearing his crown, he took on the role of Svengali. The Fat Cats in the city purred with feline cruelty, and being barefaced liars put it about that they were saving the nation through their wealth creation.
All around in Broonland were the vulgar and ostentatious signs of great wealth mounting up. The once delightful port of Lymington saw the most expensive racing yacht in the world. It should have flown the black banner of the skull and crossbones. But they showed no gratitude to New Labour. They ranted against the profligacy of the feckless population. A few informers tried to correct them and tried to draw unpleasant comparisons.
In 2006, a group of non-resident domiciles – Lord Ashcroft was one – had £200billion in the City and avoided “pauperdom” when the tax system gathered a mere £15m from their manicured paws. They still went on in their patriotic robes. Good for the country. Again in 2006, Goldman Sachs took £21bn in bonuses.
We, the people, spent £30bn on booze and the social cost of serious drinking cost society £20bn.
Some wag suggested appointing czars. Czars, as I remember, exercise power at the cost of sudden death.
The tale grows even more mysterious. Brown, with the innocence of a newborn babe, went to the Guildhall and praised the innovative skills of the City.
Let us pause and give three cheers to Bernard Madoff, the prince of embezzlers on Wall Street, he charmed $65bn away from greedy investors, and when his doomsday came he answered honestly, “there is no innocent explanation for my behaviour”.
Brown could not hide the fact that in 1997 there was a surplus in our national accounts of £108bn.
By 2006 it had gone to £50bn.
Brown, not a quick decision-maker, fantasised over Private Finance Initiatives. We are now paying public money to shareholders in these schemes, which unhappily are not widespread in their success.
Margaret Thatcher had passed over huge areas of industrial Britain, leaving behind disaster for industry and the communities around them.
Price Waterhouse and KPMG received pilgrimages in their luxurious buildings, in this new Canterbury, but no Thomas a Beckett lay in peace there.
Service industries were the new generator of wealth.
The sun was staying in one place, it had gone and risen perpetually over China.
Of the 62 Russian oligarchs, 35 moved into Britain after grabbing £110bn of the Soviet people’s productive wealth.
They bought up football clubs, restaurants, newspapers and influence.
It’s interesting to note that the financial classes are all moved into the comfortable residencies in the constituency of the disgraced speaker of the House of Commons. Brown’s hinterland in Fife has a glorious history of dissent, from electing the first official Communist MP, Willie Gallagher, and sending forth Lawrence Daly, the rising star of the National Union of Mineworkers.
I was at Michael Foot’s funeral recently and saw Brown sing The Red Flag. This book, and that experience, holds no joy for me. Brown will not raise the scarlet banner high. I have no intention of dying beneath its shade. The working class are now dying in Afghanistan – a war that Brown endorses enthusiastically. I’ve not shifted on the £20bn to be spent on clapped-out Trident. No one told him the Cold War is over. That’s that. Our banner remains unfurled.
• Illtyd Harrington is a former deputy chairman of the GLC
• Broonland: The Last Days of Gordon Brown. By Christopher Harvie. Verso £8.90