Thursday, April 24, 2008


Brown Climbdown was Right but will Create More Problems

I heard Nick Robinson interrogating Brown on the PM programme and was wholly unpersuaded by his insistence he had not backed down over the 10p tax band issue. For Frank Field, this was a major victory by one of the outstanding MPs of his generation; typically, he eschewed triumphalism and described it as a victory for the lower paid. Brown would have done better to admit that he just got it wrong rather than keep on that he had not reneged on his determination to abolish the 10p band. But the question remains, how come he missed the significance of the measure to 5.3 million of the poorest people in the country?

Maybe this (for a former Chancellor) schoolboy howler was the reason why he insisted he would not back down as his budget produced only beneficiaries and no losers; and for a Chancellor who prided himself on alleviating poverty, this piece of humble pie was too bitter to eat. But in the end, he had to. I'm sure Michael White is right that the public tends to overlook U turns as long as problems are remedied, but the climbdown does suggest some future problems will be harder to solve:

1. He has provided a convenient stick for Cameron to beat him with- as was demonstrated cruelly at yesterday's PMQs. Brown's authority has taken a severe dent and the accusation of weakness will be harder to refute from now on.

2. He will have emboldened those who want to wrestle more money out of the Treasury, having, as The Guardian's leader suggests, shown 'the public purse strings loosen when given a tug'.

3. He will also have encouraged the growing group of rebels on the backbenchers and the leftie camp of those such as the Guardian's Seumas Milne, that they have a chance of seizing the agenda from the party establishment.

4. He will almost certainly lose his vote on the 42 days in June not least now that his rebels have won such a signal victory.

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