Nick Robinson is so often spot on. From his Newslog about the reactions of the Chancellor and two would-be Chancellors to Ken Clarke’s comments about a hung Parliament,
So, on a day when unemployment rose to the highest level seen since 1994 and at a time when all parties agree we are facing the worst budgetary crisis and the biggest spending cuts in decades, these three [Darling, Osborne and Cable] argued about the only fact that has electrified this election – opinion polls which suggest the likelihood of a hung Parliament – and which, whisper who dares, might turn out to be wrong.
Let’s hope so.
And as for the unemployment figures (8 per cent of the workforce, taking it to the highest since 1996), Yvette Cooper, Work and Pensions Minister, was quoted as saying “we are not out of the woods yet.”
After the rumours, final confirmation this afternoon that even though Alistair Darling was unable to bring himself to use the N-word, Northern Rock has been taken into public ownership. The Chancellor was at pains to stress that the Government’s intention is that this should be temporary ownership only, and that deposits and savings will “remain safe and secure”. In his post The nationalisation of Northern Rock on Coffee House, Peter Hoskin asks whether we can really trust the Government to run a bank. George Osborne certainly does not think so. According to the FT he told Sky News:
“We have had months of dithering and delays and ended up in the catastrophic position, on a Sunday afternoon, of the chancellor announcing this decision to nationalise Northern Rock. They have dithered for months and months trying to create a private sale that was never really there.’’
Meanwhile, Yvette Cooper on the Channel 4 News was far from convincing in her support of the embattled Chancellor. This story has legs. If you were thinking that Alistair Darling’s reputation for competence was damaged by the non-dom ‘crisis’ then the Northern Rock debacle will bury it.
The non-dom story that has been running all week points up a couple of unattractive features about the present government. First is the impression that senior ministers are mere cyphers, and that the only person who counts is Gordon Brown. Secondly, that when things go wrong, the responsibility is never the government’s. Rather, it is invariably portrayed as the failure of a government servant, and usually a very junior one at that. Fessing up is not something this government does.
For a balanced view about the matter, read What did you do in the non-dom wars in this week’s Economist.
“Calling the retreat [as Alistair Darling ‘backed away from the most contentious of his plans to tax rich foreigners living in Britain’] a “clarification”, the Treasury claimed that many of its proposed new rules had been drafted in error. The deflection of responsibility was reminiscent of earlier attempts to make an unidentified “junior official” a scapegoat for losing millions of citizens’ tax details.”
“The crisis may have passed, but the non-dom wars have left their mark. Foreign financial folk do not feel quite as welcome in London as they did, or quite so sure that the government knows what it is doing. One casualty may yet be Mr Darling himself, whose reputation for competence has been sorely strained. But was it really his fault or Gordon Brown’s?”
The problem for Gordon Brown is that the buck for a lot of what is happening, will eventually stop somewhere. Like it or not, it will be with him.