Steve Richards: Brown's bid to run the IMF deserves a fair hearing

There is evidence that Brown's fiscal stimulus propelled Britain and other countries towards growth
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The Independent Online

The rubbishing of Gordon Brown's candidacy for the top job at the IMF says more about his opponents and complacent political orthodoxy in Britain than it does about him.

George Osborne has ostentatiously endorsed the French Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, for the post, even though as Chancellor he has no formal powers in relation to the appointment. His mischievous endorsement is a logical consequence of Cameron's interview on the Today programme earlier this month when the Prime Minister was so confident that he spoke for the nation in opposing Brown that he was a little taken aback to be criticised for his display of ruthlessly partisan diplomacy.

Brown's candidacy should be treated seriously even by his many opponents. From a parochial UK perspective he was a long-serving chancellor who managed for a decade to address the severe under-investment in Britain's public services while presiding over a growing economy.

When banks started to collapse, beginning with Northern Rock here in 2007, Brown recognised the apocalyptic sequence to be the first economic crisis of the global economy and acted accordingly, urging governments from across the world to act together. The Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman was exaggerating when he wrote a column praising Brown for saving the world, but his argument is almost lost in the orthodoxy of British political and media culture.

Without Brown's international hyperactivity in the autumn of 2008 and his package to save various banks on the verge ofcollapse in the UK, the crisis might have been much worse.

We do not know yet what the impact of the Coalition's monetarist economic experiment will be. But there is evidence that Brown's fiscal stimulus propelled Britain and other countries towards growth. The growth figures for the UK were slightly higher than expected and borrowing a little lower during Brown's final phase in power.

In contrast, Cameron and Osborne opposed the nationalisation of Northern Rock and the fiscal stimulus, arguing almost uniquely in the Western world for immediate spending cuts as the global economy stuttered dangerously. At the very least they lack ammunition to prove they were right. Yet they are the ones declaring that Brown is unsuited for the IMF, as if his record is indisputably calamitous and theirs a forensically demonstrable triumph.

Brown's economic record is far from unblemished and his range of critics is proof of an awkwardly tempestuous personality, but the casual dismissal of his case by far less experienced policymakers is an act of unnecessary spite.