A modest programme to save Gordon Brown (and Britain)

BBC Newsnight's blog has invited answers to the question: 

If there was just one thing that Mr [Gordon] Brown could do to help restore his public standing, what would it be? 

Most replies so far have suggested his immediate resignation and elections.  Here's my offering, lightly edited:

NOT resign and NOT call a general election now, which would condemn us to at least five years of Tory misrule and probably 10.  Instead, use the time remaining to him to do at least one of the following things (preferably all of them, but we're only allowed one):

The prime minister1.  Abandon 42 days detention without charge, admitting that there is no sufficiently widespread agreement to it:  and repeal the Control Orders legislation.

2.  Increase (a) the threshold for income tax enough to take 5 million people out of tax, and (b) marginal income tax rates on all incomes over £100,000 a year, increasing steeply thereafter  to penalise all outlandish salary increases and bonuses above the rate of inflation;  impose a windfall tax on the oil companies and other bodies which have made huge profits from increased world commodity prices without lifting a finger to earn them; promise that public sector pay will keep pace with inflation and that tax policy will ensure that the private sector bears its share of the burden of pay restraint.

3.  Pull our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan by Christmas.

4.  Abandon ID cards and the monster data-base that goes with them.

5.  Reduce the prison population by at least two-thirds by removing all those who ought never to have been sent there and substituting various forms of community service combined with treatment;  change sentencing policy to ensure that no more than a third of those currently jailed are imprisoned in future;  remove the power of magistrates to send offenders to prison; abolish prison sentences shorter than three years;  abolish indeterminate sentences; return privatised prisons to the public sector.

6.  Cancel the renewal of Trident and the order for aircraft carriers.

7.  Announce a 20-year programme for full devolution of all internal affairs to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, with a full parliament and executive for each, the Westminster parliament and government becoming federal institutions responsible mainly for foreign affairs and defence, on the Australian, US and German models.

8.  Declare that British troops will never again be involved in military action overseas unless Britain is attacked or an attack on Britain is imminent, or else with the explicit authority of the UN Security Council.

9.  Abandon the party list system for elections to the European parliament and substitute a Single Transferable Vote system.

10.  Complete reform of the House of Lords by making it a wholly elected chamber with limited powers (as now) elected on a different timetable from the Commons by a form of Proportional Representation, in preparation for its eventual conversion into a federal Senate. 

And a bonus, not-too-serious proposal:  11.  Issue an invitation now to Senator Obama (only) to make a State Visit to Britain within three months of taking up office next January as President.

Of course we also need urgent action on the environment and global warming, on alleviating world poverty and global inequality, on housing and immigration and the treatment of asylum seekers and reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy and  discouraging the rebirth of American protectionism and resistance to siren voices demanding cuts in oil and petrol prices (while compensating those least able to afford them) and massive cutbacks on the money being squandered on the London Olympics and stopping private companies and government bodies ripping us off by making us pay through the nose to telephone them on 0845 and 0844 lines about their own failures and defaults, and the retirement from public life of Messrs. Straw and Hoon and Ms Blears, and a few other things that I have temporarily forgotten.  But we can't have everything, I suppose.

I'm not unduly optimistic, though.


17 Responses

  1. yozza says:

    I suspect Brown is well and truly bunkered with people who share a similar view of the current dire situation.How else could anyone possibly explain the needless waste of energy and time that was the 42 days fiasco? Raising tax thresholds should be a must for any party serious about tackling poverty. And, with over 4 million people on local authority housing waiting lists a massive investment in local authority/housing association house building is needed.

  2. Toque says:

    Good stuff Brian.  Agree with 1,2,5,6,7 & 9, and agree partially with 2 & 10.

    3.  That would lead to complete anarchy, as opposed to the partial anarchy that we have now.

    8.  Would you have supported British intervention in Rwanda without UN permission?

    5.  I like what they do in Scandinavia – send non-violent criminals to prison at the weekends but allow them out during the week so they can keep their jobs and family.

    10.  Why not abolish the HoL completely and allow the Federal parliament to have powers of scrutiny over the national parliaments of the UK?

    Brian writes:  Thank you for these comments.  On your last point, I don't see much difference between converting the House of Lords into a quite different kind of institution, and abolishing it in order to replace it with something different.  The illusion of continuity might help to comfort some of our more timid compatriots. 

  3. Jeremy Varcoe says:

    Pigs may fly. You will  be lucky if Gordon Brown does one of these, and if he does it will probably be the wrong one! Bring on Tory rule; it may be bad but surely could not be worse than the last 5 years?

    Brian writes:  I think it not only could, but almost certainly would, be much worse than anything done by [New] Labour in the last five years, apart from the aggressions against Serbia and Iraq:  and I can't see a Brown government repeating those criminal follies anywhere else soon.   The Tories however seem to be enchanted by the horribly flawed notion of 'liberal intervention'.

  4. Peter Harvey says:

    Why should anyone want to save the man who paid for the illegal invasion of Iraq? Or, for that matter, the man who sold off the UK's gold deposits at the bottom of the market?

    Why not just vote for a party that broadly supports your proposals?

    I think, though I wouldn't swear to it, that the EP sets its own rules for election (9). It is usual for parliaments to do so.

    Brian writes:  I continue to vote Labour because of the two parties capable of forming a government in the foreseeable future, the Labour Party comes closer to reflecting my own political and moral values, however much its leadership persists in betraying them. 

    I was under the (quite possibly mistaken) impression that each EU country decides its own system for electing MEPs: can anyone give us a definitive answer on this? 


    The EU has adopted, and now made effective, a requirement for all member states to adopt a proportional system for elections to the European Parliament: 23 member states use List PR, and two (the Republic of Ireland and Malta) use STV.  (From http://aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/es/ese/ese04.)

    In 2002 agreement was reached on new uniform electoral procedures for European Parliament elections. This article does two things. First, it provides a comprehensive account of the rules under which the EP was elected in 2004, revealing a high degree of continuing variability in the existing electoral systems across all 25 Member States. Second, it addresses the question: if the electoral systems vary in form, do they also differ significantly in their effects?  (From http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=857634.) [Emphasis added]

  5. Agreed with all of those! (Except possibly devolution which I'm not entirely convinced about, and the voting system one which I haven't had a chance to think about yet.)

    Chance of it happening = …?

    Brian writes:  Zero. 

  6. Alan Petrides says:

    Unless he has some wonderful plans tucked up his sleeve to lay before the electorate in the year before the next election – and I wouldn't totally put it past him – then Brown is seriously doomed. I was the man that thought Blair would move to the left once elected and how wrong I was proved..so the likelihood of Brown moving left is remote. Brian please add bringing the Public Schools into the state sector to your list – one of the most divisive and archaic phenomena currently existing. At a stroke it would stop the Tory party being ruled by Old Etonians – Slough Comprehensive does not have quite the same ring to it.

    Brian writes:  I agree about the public schools.  It should be made an imprisonable offence to charge in money or in kind for the provision of any form of education to children between 6 and 18.   

  7. Owen Barder says:

    I agree with all of those.

    Didn’t there used to be a political party in favour of this kind of thing?

  8. Tim Weakley says:


    Owen’s quite right: it was called the Labour Party.

  9. Lorna says:

    I’ll vote for you.

  10. The one and only thing he could do to restore any credibility as a human being would be to blow the whistle on every last treasonous crime he, Blair and Straw embarked upon over the past 11 years, and then submit himself to the ICC for trial and sentence.

  11. Ronnie says:

    The question is not what he could to endear himself to me again, nor even what he could do to win an election but (though it might amount to the same thing) what he could do to help restore his public standing.  It is a bit hard to imagine a single heroic act of prudence.  I suggest a widespread and highly programme of actions to alter carbon output and generally to indicate that something is being done enthusiastically at last to deal with what appears to be a real and major problem.  Experience will of course discover flaws in the problem, and people will say "I told you so", but we shall have a good feeling for having taken our coats off and got out the lawnmower.

    Brian writes:  Ronnie, thank you for reminding us of the original question posed by Newsnight.  I'm sceptical, though, about your suggestion that a high-profile programme of action to deal with carbon emissions would "help restore [Gordon Brown's] public standing".  It would be virtuous, sure, but it would almost certainly involve at least short term damage to a great many people's standard of living, including restrictions on activities that many people enjoy and regard as theirs by right (driving cars on affordable petrol, flying abroad for holidays, perhaps eating meat): and this at a time when recession, global inflation and sharply rising prices especially of food and fuels, tight credit, negative equity, and the imposition of public sector pay cuts via awards below the rate of inflation, are all already hitting ordinary people hard and seem set to go on doing so for several years.  I doubt whether the imposition of yet more hardships and deprivations in the name of reducing carbon emissions would do much to 'help restore Gordon Brown's public standing'.  Indeed, I suspect that it would finish him off altogether, what's now left of him.

  12. Peter Harvey says:

    It should be made an imprisonable offence to charge in money or in kind for the provision of any form of education to children between 6 and 18.

    That would close down, for example and among many other things, every dance school in the country (no more Billy Elliot), and it would remove a source of income from many penniless musicians. It would also be totally unenforceable without draconian measures by the Inland Revenue and police to trace the black money that would still be used to pay for such services.

    Were your proposal to be applied to the British Council (and I see no reason why you should exempt them), a large part of its English-teaching operations would be closed down overnight.

    Brian writes:  Of course the Bill would need some fine-tuning to minimise anomalies such as those you mention.  I wasn't writing as a legal draughtsman! 

  13. Clive Willis says:

    Brian, you're a touch late out of the starting blocks. The distinguished journalist Clifford Longley (he of The Moral Maze) published a similar list in my weekly comic on 10 May. The list included more or less all your items but also suggested the following: wind up the Private Finance Initiative; introduce grant-free residential care for the elderly; support a Thames estuary airport; grant an amnesty to illegal immigrants; reform finance and banking regulation; renationalize the three worst train companies; exempt private health insurance from tax; end charity status for public schools but exempt school fees from tax; bring Frank Field into the Cabinet; introduce an English-language test for Asian brides; reward marriage through tax/credits/benefits; restore the tax exemption for pension funds; take major airports back into public ownership. We might well not agree with all of these (though I like most of them), but what chance is there of any of your list or Clifford's getting through? Very remote, I'd say. That being the case, in the terms of your earlier query about the Lib Dems, what is Labour for (or G Brown, for that matter)?

    To your list of those I'd like to see withdrawn from public life, I'd add Ed Balls (for crimes against education). In respect of the Man of Straw, I'm one of his constituents: this means that, as the Tory candidate is the only one with a reasonable chance of unseating him, I shall be faced with an appalling dilemma at the next general election.

    Brian writes:  Thanks, Clive.  I have searched in vain for the Longley article you mention online, handicapped by not knowing which 'comic' you refer to: I suspect a religious comic, which would make me suspicious!  Like you I disagree with some of his prescriptions — especially using tax to 'reward' marriage and exempting private medical insurance premiums from tax; I have my doubts about Frank Field being sufficiently collegiate (or sufficiently cheerful) to fit into any Cabinet for long; and why re-nationalise only three train companies?  Some others I agree with, but without much passion.  As for being behind the game, I was playing it long ago myself:   see for example http://www.barder.com/ephems/653 dated 1 March,  several weeks before the piece by your Mr Longley.  It's a game that all may play, and all shall have prizes.  And I agree that the chances of acceptance of any of Mr Longley's proposals are only marginally less remote than those of mine.  The present leadership of a once great and radical party has lost its way;  it may be that future leaders will grope their way back, or it may be that they won't.  Oh, and I'll certainly write Ed Balls's name on my ostrakon alongside the others mentioned.  And those of Blair, and Milburn, and Blunkett, and "Dr" Reid, and Byers…. 

    I don't envy you your dilemma over whether to vote for The Man of Straw, the amazing Houdini-like survivor of political train-wrecks and Foreign Secretary at the time of the criminal aggression against Iraq.  For me, voting for such a slippery customer would go almost as much against the grain as voting for a Tory or a LibDem candidate — the key word here being 'almost'.   

  14. John Miles says:

    "It should be made an imprisonable offence to charge in money or in kind for the provision of any form of education to children between 6 and 18."   


    What do about paying for private medical or dental treatment?

    Brian writes:  Paying for private medical or dental treatment doesn't have the disastrously divisive effect on British (mainly English?) society that our apartheid education system does. 

  15. John Miles says:

    First, I'd better declare my interest.

    I work as a private tutor.

    One, why do you think I approve of, or am responsible for, our "educational apartheid system?"

    Two, do you really think it's OK to have a two-tier medical/service?

    Brian writes:  One:  I don't;  Two: no. 

  16. John Miles says:

    You’ve achieved surprise.

    If the likes of me aren’t, apparently, responsible for our educational apartheid system why  should it be made "an imprisonable offence to charge in money or in kind for the provision of any form of education to children between 6 and 18?"   

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