Mr Brown won't like it if you mention the war to

Share
Related Topics
As Nigel Molesworth would have written, any fule kno that the great inflation of the 1970s was caused by the quadrupling of the oil price following the second Arab-Israeli war. What is less generally realised is that it was brought about also by the war in Vietnam, specifically by the United States deficit, which exported inflation to the rest of the world. Perhaps this latter truth is by no means universally acknowledged because the Americans do not like to admit it.

The Korean war had economic consequences likewise or, rather, consequences where the economics were mixed up with the politics. I referred to one of the more exclusively political results two weeks ago in saying that the war impelled C R Attlee into calling an unnecessary election in October 1951.

Economically also we were forced (or we forced ourselves) into a level of rearmament which the country could not stand and which split the Labour Party. It was the origin of the Bevanite controversy. Hugh Gaitskell, the Labour chancellor, accepted the level of military expenditure demanded; Bevan opposed him. The most recent evidence demonstrates that Bevan was right and Gaitskell wrong. It is set out most clearly in Dr Brian Brivati's recent biography of Gaitskell, though it was not difficult to come by even before Dr Brivati embarked on his valuable labours.

At Suez we were compelled to retreat when Harold Macmillan, the Conservative chancellor, warned the cabinet that the sterling balances were disappearing at a rate of knots. In the battle for the Tory leadership in 1957 Macmillan, who had taken us out of Suez, triumphed over R A Butler, who had never wanted us to go in anyway. It may be that the Americans would have looked after sterling on our behalf if they had been on our side then: happily they were not.

The fundamental cause of Britain's economic problem in the 20th century has been our involvement in two world wars. In the first our participation was unnecessary. The ministers who resigned from H H Asquith's cabinet at its outset, John Morley and John Burns, have been proved right. In the Second World War we had little choice except to fight. We bore the heat and burden of the day with the USSR, as we had borne it with France in the First World War. Both wars, however, were won by the United States coming in fresh after the preliminaries were over.

The aeroplanes and rockets that are now in daily use over Yugoslavia do not come cheap. Somebody will have to pay soon. I have read nothing about what the real costs are, as distinct from what an individual aeroplane or rocket would cost should you want to pick one up from your local arms dealer. There is a saying that, if you have to ask how much a yacht or a racehorse costs, you can't afford it. Modern weapons of destruction are an extreme case of this truth. But somebody has to afford it. The answer is that governments do. They afford it by taxing, by borrowing or by debasing the currency.

Nor have I read anything about how the costs of the war are to be apportioned among the countries involved. Mr Tony Blair does not mention the subject. For Mr George Robertson and Mr Robin Cook it might as well not exist. Mr Gordon Brown seems to have retreated into his bunker beneath the Treasury for the duration, as we used to say in the Second World War. From Mr Brown there has been hardly a cheep since the conflict began, except one appearance on the Today programme when he talked airily of the Contingency Reserve Fund.

Mr Blair, by contrast, appears on our television screens advancing propositions which have only to be stated for their vacuity to be apparent: for example, that the Kosovo Albanians will be led back into their former habitations under the protection of Nato troops, but that nevertheless he will not commit ground troops to Kosovo. What is the distinction between protective and invading ground troops? Mr Slobodan Milosevic is going to be equally disobliging to both.

And how are these poor people to return after they have been dispersed to all corners of the globe - or not, as the case may be? How can they go back to homes already destroyed, whether by Serbian troops or, as in Pristina, by Nato bombs? Air Commodore David Wilby initially denied that his side's bombs did any damage to the houses in Pristina. He claimed it was all caused by the Serbs. I should certainly hesitate before buying even a second-hand television set from this implausible officer.

But from Mr Brown there is not a whisper. He is the Silent Chancellor. This cannot be explained wholly by the removal of Mr Charlie Whelan from his old tasks and his transference to the world of broadcasting and journalism where, however, he gives contemporary politics a wide berth. No, Mr Brown is perfectly capable of speaking for himself if he wants to. I suspect he is not saying anything for the public ear because he is a worried man.

We all know the historic connection between warfare and taxation. Both the income tax and, less securely, the window tax were established to finance the wars of the 18th century. So far Mr Brown has managed to keep taxes - or the more obvious taxes - relatively low. In this respect he is the most successful Labour chancellor since 1945. He has been equally successful in another, more important respect as well. He has avoided the financial crisis which has marked the second and, sometimes, the third year of every single Labour government since 1929.

Here, at any rate, the People's Party would never let you down. Public expenditure would be cut, taxes raised, hospital building suspended, other laudable projects stopped, nurses disowned and teachers' pay frozen. We would be told that sacrifices were required all round. Stand up, stand up for Sterling! Mr Tony Benn would say that the Movement had been betrayed by its leaders caving in to the bankers. Mr Benn cannot be held responsible for his father's actions but, curiously, Wedgwood Benn was in the majority in Ramsay MacDonald's 1931 cabinet in voting for the cuts the bankers were demanding. It was the same story in 1947-49, in 1966-67 and in 1976.

We were due for a repeat performance of this familiar old show in 1999- 2000. But somehow, despite rumours of recession and indecision over the euro, we have managed to avoid putting it on at the New Whitehall theatre. The Government's difficulties have been different: Ireland, a tragedy which has been playing off and on to sparse houses for centuries; the House of Lords, which has been spasmodically engaging the attention of governments since the 19th century; and devolution, which has been around for a long time too.

What all these have in common is that they are constitutional problems, resolvable by reason and compromise, though you could be forgiven for thinking that Ireland was an exception, and you would be right. But wars are a matter (I quote Bismarck correctly) of iron and blood. They are not rational. Still less are those financial crises which can come about whether as a direct result of wars or for more remote reasons. That is why Mr Brown must be a worried man.

React Now

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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore