Sean O'Grady: Empty words return to haunt Brown

Deregulation that preceded the boom was unprecedented and irresponsible

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It could have been written yesterday by any clever opposition politician on the make, an excoriating critique of a failed government's "lost generation" of young people: "Our present workforce boasts a daunting majority of the unskilled and low-skilled. Where skills exist they are commonly inadequate. The net result is that Britain has higher proportions of untrained workers than any of our international rivals."

Vince Cable? Michael Gove? No: Gordon Brown, 1989, in his too-long neglected book Where There's Greed: Margaret Thatcher and the Betrayal of Britain's Future.

It is a volume that echoes down the decades. Then, as now, "women do not figure largely in public and political life", and "the right of assembly and the right to protest have been curtailed in ways that were not contemplated under any other post-war administration".

And the then-38-year-old Brown was chillingly prescient about how dangerous it would be for a government to rely on the City to generate the nation's wealth: "While masquerading as resolute, ministers subordinated the serious needs of industry to the short-term and speculative concerns of City finance." He tore into Maggie's ministers because: "They engineered a consumer boom... The degree of deregulation that preceded the boom was unprecedented and irresponsible: the entire financial system – consumer credit, banks, building societies and overseas capital movements – was deregulated in such a way that the credit boom and the boom in asset prices drew millions of families into debt. The growth that resulted did not amount to a supply-side miracle: instead it was a demand-side boom, precariously based on speculative credit." Er, quite right, Gordon.

In those days he also recoiled at how an increasingly complacent Tory administration had begun to crow about itself: "People will look back in amazement at the claims made on its behalf – an economic miracle, a social transformation, a political revolution, an industrial resurgence, the rebirth of Britain." What was that about "an end to boom and bust", Prime Minister?

The serious point in all this is that, had Brown stuck to his original social democratic ideas, rather than the punk Thatcherism he embraced out of electoral desperation in the 1990s, he, and we, might not find ourselves in the mess we are in today. I'm sure the PM has a copy of Where There's Greed on a shelf somewhere. It's certainly worth digging out.

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