Polly Toynbee (guest writer) (yes, that one.)
‘On the day when I became prime minister, I promised I would try my utmost. I have indeed worked night and day in the midst of the storm that has engulfed the world economy. I believe I have helped save this country from a depression as bad or worse than the 1930s. I have contributed to the global rescue of banks whose domino collapse threatened a terrifying meltdown. I encouraged a global fiscal stimulus that learned Keynes’ lessons.
“Make no mistake, had David Cameron and George Osborne been in power to do what they proposed, the catastrophe doesn’t bear thinking about. With ATM machines within hours of shutting down, the Conservatives urged us to do nothing, spend nothing, laissez-faire and let it happen. Supermarket shelves would have emptied in a chaos of panic. To spend money then was to invest in saving us all, and the debts we incurred were a price well worth paying. Had we not spent that money, the cost of total collapse would have been unimaginably higher. We do indeed need to repay the money borrowed, but over time, with care, at a sustainable pace, without destroying the fabric of our much improved public services.
“Unemployment now is our greatest concern: we will not create another lost generation of young people. With extra apprenticeships and every effort, bending each department to the task, we will not let it happen again. Yet Cameron and Osborne are bent on doing just that, turning their ‘Broken Britain’ fallacy into a horrible reality. They tell us they would cut deeply, immediately, before recovery is established. We never forget the cruelty of Mrs Thatcher’s 1980s cuts, the social destruction and despair, the public squalor and the doubling of children in poverty – too many children are still poor today despite our best efforts.
“I cannot stand by and let the Conservatives do it again – same blueprint, same economic errors, multiplying social problems for years to come – and all for what? To pay down a sustainable deficit too far, too fast. Nothing learned, nothing changed – same ideology, same blind indifference to national wellbeing. Look at the harm their Europhobia is already inflicting on Britain’s role in Europe as they leave the mainstream for a ragbag party of neofascists, racists and wreckers. I cannot stand by and let William Hague take us to the European departure gate.
“Each of us has a part to play to stop that happening. I have done my utmost. I am proud of so much that Labour has done, money well spent after decades of neglect. Who would have thought we could all but abolish NHS waiting lists? I will spare you the litany of Labour achievements – just look all around us.
“But as I see the challenge ahead, I fear that my utmost will not be enough and I am not the best person to lead this party into the next election. Fairly or unfairly, the public have decided. If I am no longer an asset to my party in the battle to keep the Conservatives from power, then I know my duty is to stand aside and let someone else succeed. That is the greatest service I can offer. I hope I have been the right person to see the country through a crisis. But I fear I am no longer the best person to take Labour’s good case to the electorate.
“Our party is fortunate. In my cabinet I have an abundance of talent, younger and older, who would make Labour’s case well as next leader. The process of choosing the best one will not be divisive: we are remarkably united compared with any time in our past. On the contrary, I am confident that choosing a new leader will release all the dynamism in this party in the next stage of the long march for social justice: we are essentially a social democratic nation.
“Someone new will find it easier than I to talk honestly of mistakes we have made. Of course, in 12 long years any government gets things wrong. Sometimes a scapegoat is useful to draw the understandable anger people feel at how risk and greed in the banks caused so many to lose jobs, homes and pensions. I take the blame for failing to see the full danger building up in our financial sector – though goodness knows, we shared that mistake with every other country and economist. But had we followed the Conservatives’ persistent demands to deregulate everything, how much worse the crisis would have been. Even now the Conservatives would demolish the FSA – whose chair, Adair Turner, has spelled out what must be done to restrain greed and risk from now on.
“But if the case can be better put by others, I will not stand as an obstacle in the fight ahead. By stepping aside, I give this urgent warning to voters: however angry you are at what has happened, however alarmed you are by a national debt that was necessarily incurred to prevent worse disaster, do not inflict on yourselves and the nation a government ideologically intent on harming so many of the services you depend on.
“Ask yourselves what you value most in life. Most precious are those things we can only purchase together: health, education, safety in the streets, fine public spaces, parks, museums, sports grounds and beautiful public buildings. No shop sells anything we prize so highly. Don’t let all these good public things descend again into the petty squalor of the 1980s and 1990s for the sake of a few more pounds in your pocket. The small state is the squalid state, penny-pinching, mean-spirited and devoid of things that make a country proud.
“I am glad to have played my part in helping rebuild Britain’s public realm. But I know my limitations well enough to stand down at the right time to let one of my talented colleagues take up the baton and run with it to a victory at the next election.”
Afterwards they would say that nothing so became his leadership as the leaving of it. He would become something of a hero. The British detest their politicians until they are powerless, when the most unexpected previous figures of fun and hate turn overnight into national treasures. So it would be with Gordon Brown: the man who in the end confronted his demons and showed exceptional honesty and humility. He would restore some faith in politics by putting the success of his values before self-interest. Some would murmur that he only went before he was pushed, but most would say his Captain Oates walk earned him a chapter in that slim volume of modern British politicians with true courage.
Reprinted from the online edition of http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/sep/25/gordon-brown-resignation-labour-conference