Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Many years ago, when I was Finance Director of a large UK Manufacturing Company, we set up a course for all the Directors and Senior Managers to understand the issues surrounding “Crisis Management”. The scenario started with a hypothetical incident in the Plant where, say, an employee had been killed following a fire, and the newspapers ring up, get through to you, and ask for your views on the issue.

To give the day some teeth, two reporters from the “Sun” were there, as well as a young(ish) BBC reporter named John Humphrys who was ensconced in a makeshift, but very realistic TV Studio, to conduct mock interviews with us all to make us understand what such an environment would be like if it actually happened.

Two messages came out of the day. Firstly, John Humphrys showed extremely lucidly how he could either interview you very genially about the issue, or, like a surgeon with a very sharp scalpel, dismember you within minutes, with your sweating face oozing culpability onto the TV screens of millions. He said, rather disarmingly, that he, and only he, made the decision as to which of the two alternative forms of interview took place.


The other points were made by the two “Sun” reporters. They said that the newspaper is always going to print a story, whatever you say to them. So “No Comment” has no meaning or effect on them. And also that, in every crisis, “There is always a Memo”. The memo written by the dissenter in the organisation, either protecting his back, or fighting for what he felt to be right, against a management who, he felt, was about to make the wrong decision. And this memo, ALWAYS comes out sooner or later. It is a matter of WHEN rather than IF.

Gulp again!

That was fifteen or so years ago. So fast forward to today, and Gordon Brown.

The issue of Pensions, and the way the Brown and his Treasury cohorts have almost single-handedly destroyed the Pension position for many people in this country has been a festering sore for ten years now. Those involved in Pensions have been saying for all that time that Brown’s “Dawn Raid” would have far-reaching effects on people’s pensions, and this view has slowly come to pass in a quite ghastly way.

Without going into the Whys and the Wherefores, because that has been well documented in the newspapers, the political issue here is that many millions of people, at a time in their lives when it is too late for them to make any form of financial recovery, have seen large tracts of their pension funds simply disappear.

Calculating these numbers is not easy, but something between £75 Billion and £100 billion has been wiped off their assets. Just take a second for that number to sink in.

Brown and his team of Ed Balls and Geoffrey Robinson seem to have deliberately set about extracting money from the system as soon as New Labour came to power. It would seem they simply ignored the advice of the Whitehall mandarins who advised them that the results would be a “big hole” in pension finances, that, as a result, employers would have to shell out much higher contributions which would probably cause the closure of many “final salary” schemes, local government schemes would need additional contributions (and just work out how much of your Council Tax bill is going onto that one), and there would be a sizeable negative impact on the Stock market, as well as “a reduction in pension benefits for the lower paid”.

Unremitting negative advice, which Brown and his men have been saying for many years did not exist.

So, back to the “Sun” Reporters. “There’s always a memo” was their soundbite, and, under the guise of the Freedom of Information Act, the “Times” asked two years ago for access to the relevant papers. You don’t actually need to understand the details of the issue here, you simply need to see the extent to which the Treasury politicians have been fighting since “The Times” asked their questions to know where the truth probably lies. They knew that “The memo” existed, and the last thing they wanted was its publication.

And in a rather schadenfreunde-ish timing, the delay in responding meant that the answer was finally released at a time when Brown is slap bang in the middle of building his case for Prime Ministership, and trying to make us all believ in his skills of prudency and honesty. Even releasing the documents entirely without fanfare, on a Friday afternoon just before Easter, with an Iranian Hostage crisis blowing loudly in the media, and when our man is off in Afghanistan, is a very amateur attempt at “burying bad news”, which once again has done Our Glorious Leader-to-be no favours at all.

He does seem to love creating taxes for the future, which, if they were chickens, would only come home to roost when his PM days would be over, and the strangely large guaranteed pension which he, personally, would get is in payment. Don’t try finding this in his last budget speech, because it’s not there, but he has increased the liabilities of Public Sector pensions by around £60 billion this year, and he has added a further £24 Billion of Private Finance Initiative commitments. I will go to my grave not understanding how this particular Government borrowing does not get classified as Government Borrowing. But he seems to be a man who can sell a Tax Rise as a Tax Cut, and an increase in borrowing as a reduction, in a way which would draw admiration from David Blaine.

So now we have a man whose veneer of respectable trustworthiness is at last starting to take too many hits, just at the time when he needs to be standing on the top of the Moral high Ground, if he wants to allay the accusations of “Stalinism” and bullying that he is increasingly being tainted with. Charles Clarke must be loving all this.

But if you stand back from it all, and ask yourself about the man’s credentials, you may still get a very different view on what his real agenda is. Positioned by those around him, rather coyly, as the “Son of the Manse”, he was a precociously clever child who left home to go to Edinburgh University at the age of 16, where he studied History and wrote his Doctoral Dissertation on “Labour's struggle to establish itself as the alternative to the
Conservatives. He went on to be Student Rector, and Editor of “The Red Paper on Scotland” (just check that one out), following that by a biography of James Maxton. Maxton was a founder member of the Independent Labour Party, a very Left wing organisation, with Maxton campaigning against Britian’s involvement in the First World War, organising Shipyard strikes, being found guilty and imprisoned for Sedition, and writing two book The Life of Lenin (1932) and If I Were Dictator (1935) before he died in 1946.

This man was seemingly one of Brown’s heros, and to my simple mind, I don’t think people, including New Labour Chancellors change their spots much as they age. In spite of what the Jesuits say, I think the late teens and twenties are the most formative years of most people’s lives, and the attitudes and beliefs they have then do not change much as they age. So you decide how you would categorise someone with a CV like that.

Clearly, I am not his greatest fan. I have no idea what his policies on Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Education, Transport, Law and Order and the rest are, because he never seems to have shared them with us.

The transition from Chief Financial Officer to Chief Executive in a Company is fraught with danger, and few make the jump well. So why is it any different with Gordon Brown. The only thing he has done in his Ministerial life is to be Tax Gatherer in Chief in the Treasury. So, without being able to do anything about it, we’re all about to get saddled with a very dark horse with no breadth of experience for PM.

The hairs on the back of my neck, which I listen to more than any politician in this Government, tell me he is not a man to be trusted, whose motives are not in the interests of the vast majority of people in this country. The issue is whether he is found out before he becomes PM or after. Let’s hope it’s before, and let’s hope that the rather well timed revelation of “There’s always a Memo” is the thing which crystallizes his downfall.

Well done “The Times”, and what odds will you give that the Freedom of Information Act dies a very early death if Brown gets into Number 10.



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