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June - July 2008


Road to Recovery?

by Krishan Ralleigh

Recent opinion polls and the results of local elections in Greater London and the counties are sure to dampen the spirit of any Prime minister. For Gordon Brown it is the test of his perseverance, tenacity, his visionary approach and the grasp of the realities at the grass-root level.

After a successful ten-year tenure at the Treasury, Gordon Brown, now as Prime minister, is facing the uphill task of winning back the confidence of the people of Britain. The very first opportunity of rationalising the tax system, offered to Alistair Darling, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, was bungled because no research or in depth study was conducted to find out the consequences of abolishing the 10% band as the first tier of entry to tax regime. When introduced, it was, psychologically, a wise move. It did not hurt the low-earning workers and pensioners, who were, for the first time being asked to pay 10% of their income above their allowances to the State Treasury. Reduction of the second tier from 22% to 20% was again a sensible thing as it gave extra net income to lower-middle class who are struggling to live in these days of rising food and fuel prices.

Keeping the 40% third band at approximately £40,000 may be a good option to keep the wealthy happy. But for the middle class professional teacher or a health worker, it is a big jump from 20% to 40% of any pay increase received after a hard-earned promotion. It would have been more sensible if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had introduced a new tier of 30% at, say £30,000. This way, the increase in taxation after crossing a band, either by promotion or long service remains at 10% more of the new earnings. A jump of 20% at each band would always seem punitive to those affected.

The decision to abolish the 10% tier, and then giving compensation to those affected, does not, in any sense, generate confidence among people for the government and its head, Gordon Brown.

It was not just the abolition of 10% tier that made Gordon Brown so unpopular. There were other decisions or rather non-decisions, which gradually pulled him down in the public esteem.

It emerges that after a great deal of backdoor persuasion, and with engagement of some unpleasant methods that the transfer of power took place. The people expected a certain decorum and decency at the highest level of the government. It did not happen. It was as if a section of the Labour party was tearing down the other half. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the two anchors of the New Labour began to look like the mediaeval princlings fighting for the throne. Instead of two armies, there were members of parliament lined up to attack one or the other by spreading rumours, gossips and now biographies and autobiographies are coming out to tell the stories as perceived by certain individuals from close quarters. they see it. For them the New Labour is already a dead horse to be flogged.

In July 2007, when Brown took over the leadership of the Labour party there was no contest. Nevertheless, it was not a coronation. The relations were strained not only between the two top leaders of the party but also among labour members of parliament, junior ministers and even cabinet ministers. The party, as seen by the common man, had lost the great vision of the New Labour. Naturally, the one who was now responsible for the government had to take the blame.

Again in October 2007, Gordon Brown dithered about calling the general elections. The previous mandate given by the people was to the Labour party led by Tony Blair with Gordon Brown as the head of the economy. October 07 was the time Gordon Brown should have gone to the people to get a new mandate for his government. With his brilliant record at the Treasury for ten years, the people of Britain would have given him a fresh mandate to run the government. In denying this basic right of the electorate, Gordon Brown alienated them. The result is now before us. Within seven months the electorate has struck back.

Can Gordon Brown rise back in the esteem of the common man or is he destined to sink and vanish from the political scene after the next election? Will he commit hara-kiri and retire before the next election or be pushed by his own party faithfuls as the general election date comes nearer and the polls keep on depicting a disaster for the Labour party?

The latest draft legislative programme indicates that Gordon Brown is determined to fight back the tide of disenchantment. Some of these measures, especially Education and skills bill, National Health Service reform Bill, Policing ad crime reduction Bill, Welfare reform Bill, Citizenship, immigration and oders Bill, if successfully steered through the parliament, are bound to be winners. Then there are some measures that are pure gimmicks; and these can be delayed. Lord Swaraj Paul still thinks that Gordon Brown “is going to be the best Prime Minister, Britain will ever have.”

There is no doubt that he has the intellect and sensitivity to understand the mood of the people. He has read a lot about Mahatma Gandhi; and regularly quotes him in his speeches. He is determined to modify international institutions to enable the newly developing countries like India to take their place on the world scene. He also has empathy for the African nations who are struggling to survive and to keep up with the developed world.

Unfortunately, he has only a short time left to convince the British people that he can improve their lot. There is poverty in Britain. The pensioners are afraid of going out for fear of being mugged. Young teenagers are scared of being knifed if they go out for a bash or a night out. Health care for the elderly has become a nightmare. The armed forces have been given huge responsibilities in Afghanistan and Iraq; but they are short of manpower and sophisticated equipment needed for the task. Islamic terrorism is still an ever-growing threat.

Gordon Brown has to look for fresh ideas to capture the hearts and minds of the people of Britain. The labour party has to come up with fresh ideas and strategies to keep up with the changing Britain. A new approach to support pensioners is needed. Earnings-related increase in pension has been promised; but the Treasury is still dithering about it. Old-age pensioners living in Spain, Portugal, India, Pakistan or China should have regular increase in their state pension. Fresh approach to inheritance tax will also be greatly appreciated by the people of Britain, who cherish their homes and family.

Education system, healthcare and the police are the three areas, which influence the daily life of every citizen. Efficiency and continuous improvement in these three services is well recognised and appreciated by the common people; and will influence their voting intentions. It is not beyond Gordon Brown and his team to find fresh ideas in these three areas as urgent measures to be introduced in the next six months. That is the talisman for Gordon Brown to work on to win back his popularity in opinion polls. As Gandhi said, “It is by winning people’s minds and hearts to new ideas that one can actually change the course of history.”

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