How Labour fiddled while Britain burned

“When you’ve got a minute I suppose we should give this running a country lark a go”

The news in today’s Telegraph that Ed Balls was involved in a plot to remove Tony Blair as Prime Minister in 2005 will have come a complete shock to precisely no one. The only awkward thing is that back in 2005, when all this plotting was going on, Balls kept going round telling people, often people with recording devices, that no plotting was going on. It’s certainly a fresh embarrassment for Labour that the guy who wants to be put in charge of the nations finances has been revealed as a barefaced liar.

If anything more can come of the revelation of something we all knew already it is yet more evidence, if it were needed, of just what an epically useless government this country had between 1997 and 2010. As we hosed money at creaking public services, as we sank deeper into debt on the back of seven straight years of borrowing before the recession hit, as we embarked on an experiment in mass immigration totally unparalleled in British history, and as we got embroiled in two protracted wars, our government was busy sizing up each others offices.

The truth is that we didn’t have a government, we had a third rate daytime soap opera. The memoirs and diaries of the key players in this sorry period in British political history; Blair, Mandelson and Campbell, read like they were bashed out by some third rate hack writing for Days of Our Lives. The endless drivelling stream of bitching, tittle tattle and gossip would make Ena Sharples, Hilda Ogden and Dot Cotton look like paragons of tight lipped rectitude. And in Peter Mandelson we even had the greatest resurrection since Bobby Ewing. Twice.

In 2005 Blair, according to his memoir, had “an interesting debate, not quite a contretemps” with Brown over runaway government spending. “My view was that we had reached the limit of spending…Even with the economy still growing I could sense that enough was enough”

A little later, Blair writes, he sought to

“[M]ove beyond the catch-up investment in public services and instead focus on a smaller, more strategic government. This was, in my mind, right in itself but also critical to dealing with the ‘big state’ and ‘tax and spend’ arguments that I was sure, in time, would pull apart our coalition in the country, and therefore our ability to win. It went back to the argument, already described, during the 2005 election. Unfortunately, the FSR was fought every inch of the way and was the one element I was unable to put in place prior to departure, it being the one that really did depend on Gordon’s departure.”

But nothing was done, the opportunity lost amid Blair’s miniscule attention span and the swirling passions of a government more interested in itself than governing.

Looking back it might all seem seductively fun, big characters doing big things and forget the consequences, like Phil sleeping with Sharon or Jim McDonald breaking up his sons wedding. But unlike the last Labour government we do not live in la la land, where Ed Miliband’s party seem still to be comfortably ensconced, we live in a real world with consequences, such as having to cut back on spending after a colossal binge. We now have to face up to the consequences of the last government and there is nothing fictional about those.

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