Gordon Brown’s resignation speech?

Polly Toynbee’s column today is brilliant, but futile: “Gordon Brown can at last emerge a hero, by giving a resignation speech at the party conference” – but it’s not going to happen, is it?

Still, she provides a couple of reminders as to why the election of a Conservative government next year will be a tragedy for this country, as the Gordon Brown from her alternative universe – the one in which he has the courage to call inevitability’s bluff – tells his audience:

Make no mistake, had David Cameron and George Osborne been in power to do what they proposed, the catastrophe doesn’t bear thinking about. With ATM machines within hours of shutting down, the Conservatives urged us to do nothing, spend nothing, laissez-faire and let it happen. Supermarket shelves would have emptied in a chaos of panic. To spend money then was to invest in saving us all, and the debts we incurred were a price well worth paying. Had we not spent that money, the cost of total collapse would have been unimaginably higher.

And, more positively, an affirmation of social democracy as a means of providing things that improve life for all of us:

Ask yourselves what you value most in life. Most precious are those things we can only purchase together: health, education, safety in the streets, fine public spaces, parks, museums, sports grounds and beautiful public buildings. No shop sells anything we prize so highly. Don’t let all these good public things descend again into the petty squalor of the 1980s and 1990s for the sake of a few more pounds in your pocket. The small state is the squalid state, penny-pinching, mean-spirited and devoid of things that make a country proud.

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5 thoughts on “Gordon Brown’s resignation speech?”

  1. Most precious are those things we can only purchase together: health, education, safety in the streets, fine public spaces, parks, museums, sports grounds and beautiful public buildings.

    Health and education: Labour has the monopoly on publicly-funded health and education, I’d forgotten. And Polly, of course, didn’t send her step-daughter to Westminster School. State-run schools are so good, you see, she wanted to ensure her step-daughter didn’t take someone else’s place. Or something like that.

    Safety in the streets: Haha, very funny, Polly. The Tories used to have the reputation for being, if anything, too harsh on the law-and-order front. But now that New Labour is making the hardest-nosed hanger-and-flogger look like a soft touch, this gets spun to suggest that only Labour can be trusted with the police. A novel approach, but then Polly’s always been a little ropey on civil liberties.

    Parks and museums: Explain to me how we can “only” have parks and museums if we’re prepared to fund them publicly. Because I know for a fact there are privately-run museums, and I’d be willing to guess the same is true of parks, too. “Only” “free-at-the-point-of-use”, yes, but “only” at all?

    Sports grounds: What are we thinking of here? Gymnasia are frequently privately-operated, so are many swimming pools.

    Beautiful public buildings: Public buildings have to built by public money by definition I guess. But beauty is not the sole preserve of either public or private sector, and most of our genuinely beautiful architectural heritage dates from the Victorians. Certainly not the concrete Sixties!

    More generally, is “purchase together” equivalent to “fund through general taxation”?

    The small state is the squalid state, penny-pinching, mean-spirited and devoid of things that make a country proud.

    No, it just lets people value things according to their own preferences, rather than according to Polly Toynbee’s preferences. Actually, it might even make people prouder of their country, because they can feel that they chose something to happen, rather than having it imposed from the top. Is that such a bad idea?

  2. Phil:

    No, it just lets people value things according to their own preferences, rather than according to Polly Toynbee’s preferences.

    Well, unless their “preferences” are for parks and museums that are free at the point of use, sports facilities that can be accessed by those unable or unwilling to be locked into £45/mth gym contracts, hospitals where people don’t have to wait two years for an operation, schools which are not inhabiting crumbling 1940s buildings and portacabins (like our children’s primary school in 1997), and so on. I’m trying to resist playing the “you’re too young to remember what it was like having a Tory government” card, but… 😉

    Agree that Labour’s law and order and civil liberties policies have been t3h suck. But we live in a basically illiberal country. That’s not about to change next year.

  3. No, I know the UK’s not going to change any time soon, although as I said before, I think there has been a bit of a shift in opinion over the last little while. Even if reversing it isn’t an option, slowing it down is always nice.

    I spent some of the best years of my life in a Portakabin. Paid for publicly, provided privately, I note in passing.

    As for gyms, I take your point, but do wonder to what extent private facilities are basically put out of business by subsidised public ones. Then the local council finds that it is losing money on its public facilities (or a cost-cutting administration turns up), and shuts them down. That means that rather than having a facility which at least some people can use, you end up with no facility for anyone. Well, I guess it’s “fair”, in a manner of speaking.

    More generally, “free at the point of use” = “someone else pays”. Say it loud and say it proud! Seriously, it’s nice rhetoric to say that only public money can do certain things, but what Polly really means is only the taxpayer can provide it free at the point of use. Well, you could say that about pretty much anything. So the question becomes, Why this but not that? Food’s pretty important: why don’t we have free-at-the-point-of-use food?

  4. Phil: there are times when people do need food that’s “free at the point of use”. Let’s hope we never have to live through those times ourselves. Most of the time, the market is able to provide for this pretty well – after all, that’s where “the market” started in the first place. I’m quite happy with the market being left to operate freely where it does its job well; less happy with the idea that every area of human activity should be turned over to its operations.

    As for provision of sports facilities: it may be that the existence of public facilities inhibits market alternatives (though that doesn’t seem to be universally the case: private gyms and children’s play areas flourish, despite public provision in those sectors). But (a) the market wasn’t providing these before councils built them; and (b) when, in the scenario you describe, the council closes its underfunded leisure centre, the market doesn’t seem to leap in to provide a new one. Which suggests the public facility wasn’t suppressing the private sector all that much.

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