1979 was the last time the country saw anything like this crisis. Indeed in recent weeks I have had a creeping feeling of deja-vu as Brown goes double or bust on the bank bailout package and a formerly dosile creature begins to rear its ugly head. In this light the paralells that can be drawn between Brown and Former Prime Minister James Callaghan grow greater by the day. We always knew the similarities between the two were stark; both inherited the crown after years in waiting (although Callaghan concealed his ambition rather better) and both knew that they might be in for a very short time and both men turned down the option of having an early election they were favourites to win, which as we know resulted in Callaghan losing in 1979 to Margaret Thatcher as Brown is likely to do to Cameron in 2010.
However one sleeping dragon which we believed to be slayed under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher seems to be waking up once more: the unions. Callaghan was chiefly troubled by the trade union strikes of the 1970s, which resulted in the famous ‘winter of discontent’. That crisis in no small way cost him the election. Brown now has the mother of a recession and as the dormant union dragon looks to be stirring once more Brown is in deep trouble. Brown’s crisis with the unions as you will be aware by now is over jobs for foreign workers at the Total refinery in Lincolnshire (Total is a French company) which has fueled wildcat strikes all over the country from workers who feel helpless in face of the faceless threat called globalisation.
In another contrast Callaghan and Brown have been undone by their own words, although to be fair Callaghan didn’t deserve to be whereas Brown most certainly does. In early 1979 Callaghan returned from an economic summit in sunny Guadeloupe to a Britain with everybody apparently on strike, from dustmen to the council workers who were supposed to bury bodies. When asked by a hack at the airport what was going on, ‘Sunny’ Jim said, “I don’t think other people would share the view that’s there’s mounting chaos in the country.” The Sun newspaper subbed this down a bit to: Crisis, what crisis? And Callaghan was doomed.
By contrast speaking to the Labour Party conference Brown, at his most bombastic, promised “British jobs for British workers”, which was an insult to all the useful foreigners working over here and Im afraid not in his gift to deliver anyway as there’s free movement of labour within the European Union. And it’s exactly what’s not happening in Lincolnshire, as numerous angry British workers have reminded him. To compound the felony Brown is grandstanding at Davos, trying to make it look as though Britain is leading the world through the economic crisis (a bit reminiscent of Guadeloupe apart from the weather) and the minister deputed to deal with this crisis is trade minister Pat McFadden, who no-one’s ever heard of and was trying to move house at the same time.
In the years since Mrs Thatcher’s slash and burn war on the unions workers have tended to keep their heads down when things have got tough, hoping to keep their jobs. But now, when they think they’ll probably lose them anyway, things could get extremely nasty, as they have in cities such as Paris with riots in the streets. Brown, currently 15 points behind in the polls, has no answer to this. He can’t keep on blaming American bankers. One of the biggest difference between Brown and Callaghan however is that Sunny Jim recognised one thing that seems to escape Brown. So in close I shall leave you with a quote from Callaghan himself which Im confident will serve as Gordon Brown’s epitaph:
“We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step.”