Leading article: Where's Gordon Brown when you need him?

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The Independent Online

No need to worry, Labour Party members and delegates. We are not suggesting that the former prime minister should show up in Liverpool and offer to lead the annual conference to the promised land. We understand that he is not intending to attend, and the party hardly needs him there as a reminder of its election defeat.

But there is a Gordon Brown-shaped hole at the centre of the Opposition, as David Cameron and George Osborne become increasingly apocalyptic about the outlook for the world economy.

For the Prime Minister and Chancellor to use language that can be translated into headlines such as "staring down the barrel of a gun" and "six weeks to save the euro" is surprising, given how important confidence is not just to the markets but to businesses and individuals wanting to plan.

There is a case for saying that, however monstrous Mr Brown's behaviour, he had authority and drive in a crisis – and we are in the middle of one again. We are very far from being "out of the danger zone", as Mr Osborne hubristically claimed last year, and the country needs leadership.

Mr Brown showed some of that in 2008-09, with his Chancellor, Alistair Darling, as American and British financial institutions fell like dominoes. He acted decisively to "save the world", as he put it, by nationalising British banks and pumping money into the system. He secured a degree of consensus at the G20 in London in April 2009 that did much to bolster global confidence.

It is notable that one of the triggers of this second crisis was the failure of Barack Obama and Congress to agree terms over the debt ceiling until the last moment at the end of July. Weak leadership has consequences.

Of course, this second crisis is different. The crisis on the Continent is about whole countries unable to pay their debts, and about recapitalising eurozone banks. Britain, outside the eurozone (thanks to Mr Brown), has limited leverage.

Yet what happens to the euro will be felt by us as much as if we were a member of the eurozone, and Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, facing elections soon, like President Obama, have failed to lead.

The logic of the argument put forward by Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne – that eurozone failure would be bad for Britain – would seem to be that the British should join in the euro rescue operation. That is, after all, what the Prime Minister and the Chancellor did for the Irish Republic, an old friend and an important trading partner, to support euro stability.

No one in this country is arguing for such a position, however. On the contrary, the right wing of the Conservative Party is beside itself with nihilistic glee, while Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne are trying, feebly, to do the right thing. But their judgement has been so poor in the past, and the isolationist tendency in their party is so strong, that The Independent on Sunday has little faith in them.

They complain loudly now that Mr Brown, as chancellor, borrowed too much in 2005-07, thus leaving the public finances in a weaker state than they should have been when Lehman Bros went bust. But they did not complain at the time. And in the banking crisis that followed the collapse of Lehmans, they got most of the big decisions wrong – about nationalising banks and the fiscal stimulus.

What, then, of the alternative leadership on offer in Liverpool this week, of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls? Well, neither has shown much of that elusive quality so far, although Mr Balls plainly has the intellectual firepower. They are not helped by the Blairite wing of the party, which demands that they should apologise for all kinds of things the Labour government did not do. Tessa Jowell, the Blairite shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, says today that Labour must say sorry for mismanaging the public finances.

We do not agree. Most of the deficit was caused by taking sensible action to stimulate the economy and stop the 2008 recession turning into a slump. The Labour Party should not obsess about apologising for the past. Its record in government was, on balance, a good one.

Mr Miliband and Mr Balls need some of their mentor Mr Brown's authority on the economy. The case for leadership is there to be made. It will be a stretch, but this week both of them need to rise to the level of events.