Wednesday, October 08, 2008


National Economic Council or L’État, C’est Moi?

On a morning when the Chancellor of the Exchequer unveils another expensive brilliant wheeze and the markets crash down still further – must be a day with a ‘y’ in it – I’m still simmering about the spin swallowed whole from a couple of days ago. Remember every news outlet’s breathless awe about “the first meeting of the National Economic Council,” as if this was some brand new but august body that knew what it was talking about and would magically engender solutions, rather than just rebranding the same bunch of clueless Labour ministers who got us into this mess?

Let’s see, now. “National” – well, that must be bringing the nation together, mustn’t it? Not just Labour Party politics, but finding all the best and brightest from across the divide that Britain has to offer, surely. “Economic” – well, obviously, they must be real economic whizzes; innovative businesspeople, perhaps, or Nobel-winning economists, or Vince Cable. And “Council” – well, that surely means some sort of democratic structure, so we can all see their wise debates in the open, hold them to account and vote them in or out based on the ideas they come up with.

Hang on… I’ve got a list of the membership here. “Secretary of State for…” “Minister of…” “Secretary of State for…” “Minister of…” “Secretary of State for…” “Minister of…” Here! This is just a list of Labour MPs who’ll meet behind close doors, check nobody’s listening, and cry “Oh, s**t! We’re doomed!” twice a week, isn’t it? And in what way will that make a change?

It’s one of Mr Brown’s more successful pieces of spin – for a day, at least, he was surrounded by journalists implicitly praising his sagacity – but this isn’t a “National Economic Council” or a cross-party crisis “National Government” (a terrible idea, but clearly what the name’s supposed to evoke) at all. It’s just a renamed Cabinet Committee, with nothing new about it at all, made up simply of all the Labour machine politicians who were there before, none of whom will suddenly have grown the economic nous to fix Mr Brown’s mess by dint of being given a new title. You’d think it was the first example of the dark arts of the return of Mr Lord Mandelson if it weren’t for the reassuringly fusty hint of 1960s corporatism in the title.

The main thing to learn from this ‘new’ body isn’t that Mr Brown takes his economic crisis seriously, nor that he’ll mutter incessantly and impotently about it twice a week to a picked bunch of his cronies – we knew all that anyway. It’s that Mr Brown sees himself and his party as the nation. The national interest is Labour’s interest; the best of the nation are by definition those place-people he’s already picked from the Labour benches; if Mr Brown needs a council of the nation and its unparalleled brilliance on the economy, he need only talk to a mirror. Scratch that 1960s corporatism – this Labour Prime Minister doesn’t even need to bring in trade union barons and captains of industry for beer and sandwiches, let alone anyone with a less establishment worldview. Mr Brown thinks there’s nothing about the economy that he, as father and embodiment of the nation, doesn’t already know. What could possibly go wrong? Actually, we all knew he thought that already, too.

Alternatively, you can’t help feeling that maybe Mr Brown just wanted one because his friend President Bush has one, too. And hasn’t that turned out well?

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Such cynicism from one so young - I despair.
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