Gordon Brown’s premiership will not be remembered as a success. He did so many things wrong that the list is too long to tell. Among the highlights are his sale of 395 tons of Britain’s gold reserves between 1999 and 2002 for £2.3bn, an amount that would now be worth $14.3bn.
He devalued trust in open government by sneaking in ‘stealth’ taxes without declaring them. He turned Britain from one of the most competitive, low-tax regimes in Europe to one of the least competitive, high-tax regimes.
He squandered mind-boggling sums on public services, claiming that their poor performance was because they were under-resourced. The mountain of extra cash brought no improvement remotely commensurate with it.
He schemed against Blair’s premiership, undermining it whenever he could, and thwarting its ability to restructure and improve the public services.
He borrowed without limit, leaving his country with a crippling burden of debt. It had taken 300 years and innumerable wars to take Britain’s public sector net debt to £352bn by 1997. It took Brown 12 years to double that, and it is well on the way to doubling again by 2014.
The list goes on, but he did two things right. He gave the Bank of England its independence (though its Monetary Policy Committee is still government appointed). And his 5 conditions kept us from joining the euro. Given a chance, Tony Blair would have taken Britain into the single currency faster than he took us into Iraq, but those 5 conditions were never met, so Britain stayed out.
Looking at the mess the eurozone is in today, we can be grateful that staying out was one of the things Gordon Brown did right. The euro represented an attempt to impose political wishful thinking upon economic reality. Even in its current crisis, eurozone leaders are putting EU politics ahead of what economic sense requires. We are well out of it, and Brown merits a nod of praise to punctuate the torrents of well-deserved abuse.