Gordon Brown is demanding Parliament be recalled for an emergency budget. By October, he says, quoting a study he commissioned from the University of Loughborough, half the population could be living in fuel poverty. ‘Not enough thinking is being done about the major social crisis,’ he told Radio Four’s The World at One on Monday. The former Chancellor and Prime Minister does, of course, have every right to make what representations he wishes to the government, and no-one can call him a hypocrite for wanting the Chancellor and MPs to sacrifice their summer holidays for an emergency budget. His first holiday as PM, in 2007, famously lasted half a day before he found an excuse – a minor outbreak of foot and mouth – to return to Downing Street.
But it is worth recalling Brown’s own record in government, and how it feeds into the economic situation in which we find ourselves today. Brown was our longest-serving Chancellor of modern times, spending over 10 years at No. 11 between May 1997 and June 2007, and remained heavily involved in economic policy until he lost the 2010 general election.
First, the good bit. In his 10 years as chancellor Britain enjoyed the second fastest growth in GDP per capita of any G7 nation, and did not suffer a single quarter of negative growth – not even when the US briefly fell into recession after 9/11. That did change somewhat after he left No. 11 and took up residence next door. Indeed, Britain went on to suffer what was then the deepest recession since the 1930s. Brown and his ministers always refuted any suggestion that this was their fault (although they had gratefully accepted praise for the long period of unbroken growth); it was a worldwide recession, they argued, caused by a financial crisis which began in the US.