So, how was it for you, Gordon?

What, to paraphrase Monty Python, has Gordon Brown ever done for us? Quite a lot - although whether his achievements have been positive or malign depends on whom you talk to. One thing is true, he will go down as the longest-serving Chancellor of modern times. By Philip Thornton
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The Independent Online

Economic Growth

What he inherited: The economy had been through a painful catharsis with the late-1980s recession and the humiliating exit from the European exchange rate mechanism in 1992. But the collapse in house prices and devaluation of the pound laid the ground for economic recovery.

What he did: He has made economic history. The economy has grown for 57 quarters in a row (including the current one that ends this weekend), a phenomenon unknown since the Industrial Revolution. There was a close call in the wake of the Asian and Russian financial crises but even that was revised away.

What it looks like now: Gordon Brown looks on track to be able to use November's pre-Budget report to boast that he has beaten his forecast for GDP growth of 2.0 to 2.5 per cent. There are signs that growth is becoming more balanced with manufacturing and business investment offsetting a slowdown in consumer spending.

Brown's legacy: The outlook is far less upbeat. The Treasury has pencilled in growth of between 2.75 per cent and 3.25 per cent in the first two years of a putative Brown premiership. With rising utility bills sapping household wealth and a US slowdown imminent, the next Chancellor will have his/her work cut out.

Points Score: 9

Interest Rates

What he inherited: Interest rates were on the way down when Labour took office - well below the astonishing peak of 15 per cent at the height of the ERM crisis.

What he did: In what may prove the significant legacy of Labour's administration, Mr Brown handed over the power to set interest rates to the Bank of England. This has contributed hugely to economic stability. Businesses and homebuyers know that rates will be set independently of the political timetable.

What it looks like now: Interest rates have risen to 4.75 per cent since they troughed at a 50-year low of 3.5 per cent in 2003. Inflationary pressures from energy prices and import costs are adding to pressure for another increase after August's rise.

Brown's legacy: Rates are also set to rise further this year and next. More importantly, the size of household debt (see below) means the total cost of debt servicing is forecast by Capital Economics to hit 22.4 per cent of income next year, surpassing the 1990s peak of 22 per cent.

Points Score: 8


What he inherited: Britain's woeful experience inside the ERM delivered some harsh anti-inflationary medicine to the economy. Inflation was already falling when Mr Brown took over.

What he did: The Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee can claim success for keeping inflation within a narrow band between 1997 and 2006, allowing Mr Brown to gain some reflected glory. But it has had to combat inflationary pressure from the public sector because of the injections of billions into state services.

What it looks like now: Inflation is still very low by historic standards but it is rising. The measure that Mr Brown introduced that excludes housing is at a joint nine-year high of 2.5 per cent, while the headline rate is running at 3.4 per cent.

Brown's legacy: There is growing discontent that the inflation rate used to set interest rates bears no relation to voters' own personal circumstances. Analysis by The Independent showed inflation for goods and services that people have to pay - council tax, utilities and so on - is above 5 per cent. Could there ever be another tax riot?

Points Score: 10

Household finance

What he inherited: Voters in 1997 still had a pretty good memory of the housing crash that caused the early 1990s recession. The total level of household debt in May of that year was £503bn and house price inflation was bumbling along at around 5 per cent.

What he did: Very little. The Government had long abandoned any attempt to target or control the money supply and the Chancellor was not going to change that. The Bank of England met its inflation target by cutting interest rates in a downturn, creating a period of cheap money. House price inflation neared 30 per cent at one point.

What it looks like now: Household debt now stands at a staggering £1.24 trillion - almost three times the 1997 level. House price inflation is now running at 8 per cent a year and rising.

Brown's legacy: British households are burdened with a record amount of debt. This leaves them vulnerable to either a crash in the price of property, where most of the debt is locked, or a sharp rise in inflation.

Points Score: 5

Public finance

What he inherited: As with inflation, the public finances were on the mend in 1997.

What he did: He made three key decisions at the outset of government - stick to the Tories' tight spending plans for two years, set out his fiscal rules, and auction off the radio spectrum for the next generation of mobile phones. This helped to deliver hefty surpluses between 1998 and 2001.

What it looks like now: The surpluses have turned into deficits. Between 2004 and 2011, the Government will borrow almost £215bn to cover the gap between spending and revenue.

Brown's legacy: The key test for the Chancellor is whether he will break the golden rule that the Government must not borrow to fund current non-investment spending over the economic cycle. Mr Brown has extended the current cycle back by two years to 1997 and forward by three to 2008. With the current cycle set to end with a surplus of just £10bn, the next Chancellor will have his/her work cut out.

Points Score: 4

Pensions and poverty

What he inherited: The pensions system had suffered a crisis in the 1990s with a major mis-selling scandal. Poverty among children and pensioners was at levels unacceptable for an industrialised nation.

What he did: He abolished a tax rebate for pension funds that has been blamed for triggering the collapse in occupational pensions. The Government set targets to abolish child poverty and introduced means-tested tax credits for working families and pensioners.

What it looks like now: Occupational pension schemes are in retreat and an independent report by Lord Turner identified a £57bn savings black hole. Lord Turner has proposed an increase in the basic state pension. The share of UK children living in poverty is 27 per cent, down from 33 per cent in 1997.

Brown's legacy: This year the Chancellor called for a great debate on pensions and the Turner report has fired the starting gun. His achievements on alleviating global poverty via debt relief may be Mr Brown's longest-lasting legacy.

Points Score: 3


What he inherited: Income inequality widened sharply in the 1980s. The recession of the Major era helped narrow the gap.

What he did: According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, there is clear evidence that Mr Brown has redistributed money from the rich to the poor. It said the £1.1bn of giveaways between 1997 and 2005 had increased the disposable incomes of the second-poorest decile by 10 per cent while cutting the richest tenth by 6 per cent.

What it looks like now: Reforms have been targeted at hard-working families and pensions. The Government has handed over more than £20bn in tax credits, child benefits and pensioner payments since 1997.

Brown's legacy: The pre-tax income of the top fifth of households in the UK is still 16 times greater than that for the bottom fifth.

Points Score: 8

Tax and red tape

What he inherited: Three income tax bands at 20 per cent, 24 per cent and 40 per cent. Corporation tax was set at 33 per cent.

What he did: New Labour pledged not to raise the basic and top rates of income tax and Mr Brown has broadly stuck to that pledge. In 2002 he raised National Insurance contributions but insisted that was not an income tax hike. He has also introduced the National Minimum Wage, a host of tax credits and the climate change levy.

What it looks like now: On the surface he has cut taxes. Income tax now starts at 10 per cent with a basic rate at 22 per cent and the top rate at 40 per cent. Corporation tax now starts at 30 per cent. But businesses complain their tax burden has risen by £54bn while the volume of red tape has risen exponentially.

Brown's legacy: Mr Brown's most significant achievements are what he hasn't done. By raising income tax allowances in line with inflation, the number of top-rate taxpayers has soared from 2.1 million to 4 million. Revenues from stamp duty and inheritance tax have soared. Overall, the share of the economy taken by tax has risen from 37.3 per cent of GDP in 1997 to 39.7 per cent.

Points Score: 6