Adrian Hamilton: When you're in a deep, deep hole, it's best to stop finger-pointing

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Saturday 24 January 2009 01:00
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For the past few weeks Gordon Brown's advisers have been desperately advising him to admit some responsibility, or at least some fellow feeling, for the recession overwhelming the country. Yesterday, in an interview of unusual softness even by BBC standards, he gave his answer on the Today programme. It was a resolute refusal even to consider culpability.

The present woes, he insisted, were entirely generated from abroad. This was a global crisis, whose responsibility lay solely with the banks and whose solution would only come from international action. We were doing the right things, he said, and if they didn't work it would be because other countries such as China and our partners in Europe weren't reflating their economies "in tandem".

This is more than the usual tendency of British governments to blame foreigners ("the gnomes of Zurich" as Harold Wilson notoriously proclaimed) for any economic crisis. It is an abnegation of responsibility that is now perverting all attempts to understand the downturn upon us and the measures needed to deal with it. Of course it's a global crisis. But the problem doesn't only come from abroad. It also lies with Britain's particular state of indebtedness and its reliance on house prices and financial innovation for growth. It cannot be met by a constant pouring of money into support of the banks or debasing the currency. The Government has to accept the problems of the real economy. It certainly can't go on spending at this rate without getting into serious problems with the markets and the foreign investors needed to finance our debt.

The Prime Minister is fond of bringing the name of Barack Obama in aid of his own spending policies. But he should heed almost the first words of Obama's inauguration address: "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failures to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age."

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