Leading Article: Brown grasps at the holy grail

Share
Related Topics
THE GOLDEN RULE. Sounds mystical, doesn't it? It is the grail that successive Chancellors have grasped at but never quite managed to attain. Put simply, it says that a prudent government, like a wise individual or company, should never borrow to consume, but only to invest. Gordon Brown is the latest politician to seek the grail. He believes that it is the key to sound public finances and the best guarantee for the future of our public services. He is right, and he deserves our support.

If the golden rule is so straightforward and worthy, why has it proved so elusive? The reasons are straightforward. Politicians, have always found it difficult to resist the temptation to borrow to spend more on the public services. Harold Wilson supposed that the civilising mission of state-sponsored spending would provide what the Pyramids, cathedrals and railways had provided in the past. Institutional links between the trade unions and the Labour Party fostered the cause of the public sector, especially over pay. Despite New Labour's "no favours" approach, this remains one of the many intense pressures on the Chancellor. The TUC went to see him yesterday to tell him to spend his "surplus cash" on the public services. They argue that "it is no use having a surplus if we still have long hospital waiting lists, large class sizes and teachers, nurses and doctors leaving the service".

But, whilst across-the-board rises cannot be afforded, HM Treasury is, as The Independent reported yesterday, in fact aware that there is a problem with public sector pay falling behind the private sector. The Treasury is, rightly, planning to direct what little funding it has found as a result of the comprehensive spending review towards key "front-line" staff who take on extra responsibilities. This is an imaginative and responsible approach to balancing the need for prudent finances and rewarding the most hard-pressed and talented of our health and teaching professionals.

It is tempting to caricature what the Chancellor is planning - a series of budget surpluses - as building up a pre-election fund ready to woo the electorate when the time comes. This is unfair. One day we will be grateful that we do indeed have a substantial buffer to protect our public services when a depressed economy provides too little in tax to fund education and health properly. That is a perfectly legitimate ambition. By the standards of our recent history, it might even be thought of as a golden one, too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices