FactCheck: no more boom and bust?
Updated on 17 October 2008
Gordon Brown says he claimed only to have ended "Tory" boom and bust. Really?
"I actually said, 'No more Tory boom and bust'."
Gordon Brown, the Daily Mail, 11 October 2008
Gordon Brown has recently been recast as an international man of financial action, although recriminations reverberate about the extent of Labour's role in causing - or at least not preventing - the current economic mess.
Still, there's a human side to unflash Gordon, and Mail columnist Allison Pearson went behind the scenes at the prime minister's Downing Street flat for a profile piece published at the weekend.
Little of Brown's policy trot made it into print, but one particular claim about boom and bust caught FactCheck's eye.
"When we finally manage to snatch some time in the study on the first floor, I ask if he has any regrets about his boast: 'No more boom and bust'," writes Pearson.
"I actually said, 'No more Tory boom and bust'," was Brown's reply.
Which does sound rather strange, not least to Pearson.
" 'I don't remember you inserting the word "Tory", Prime Minister?' "she continues, to which "Brown laughs, as much in annoyance as amusement. 'Fifteen per cent interest rates under the Tories! We've got interest rates of five per cent, that's a bit different, isn't it?' "
So what did he really say?
Brown was boasting about the measures taken by the government to end boom and bust as long ago as 1997.
As this extract from his first pre-budget report shows, it was something he considered to be a long-running problem, and not one confined to the Tories.
"For 40 years our economy has an unenviable history, under governments of both parties, of boom and bust.
"So, against a background of mounting uncertainty and instability in the global economy, we set about establishing a new economic framework to secure long-term economic stability and put an end to the damaging cycle of boom and bust".
In his last budget as chancellor, Brown said "we will never return to the old boom and bust".
Right before this, he compared Labour's low interest rates to those of the (mostly) Tory-controlled two decades before 1997. But he also gave a longer-term perspective, pointing out only two sentences after the boom and bust line that "ten years ago and for decades before, Britain's stop go economy was also held back by chronic underinvestment".
So even taking into account the context of Brown's comments, it's hard to repaint this as a direct reference to Tory boom and bust.
There is some case for the defence: Brown has talked about an end to Tory boom and bust.
In his speech to the Labour party conference in 2000, for example, he promised there would be "no return to Tory boom and bust". Elsewhere in the speech, he uses the not-uncommon Brownian tactic of contrasting his great clunking fist of stability with the high unemployment and inflation spectres of the Tory era.
But his comment to Pearson suggests that he always talked about an end to Tory boom and bust, rather than just sometimes.
And unfortunately for Brown, there are far too many mentions of no more plain, good ol' boom and bust, without a Tory-specific qualification in sight. Here's just a few.
In the 2006 budget, he said: "As I have said before Mr deputy Speaker: No return to boom and bust".
Going back further, in his conference speech of 2004, he said: "No longer the boom-bust economy, Britain has had the lowest interest rates for forty years".
On 5 April 2000, in a speech to British Chambers of Commerce national conference, Brown said the government had established its new monetary framework "to avoid the historic British problem - the violence of the repeated boom and bust cycles of the past".
Brown has talked specifically about the end of Tory boom and bust, but to suggest, as he did in the Mail interview, that it was always the mantra seems faintly ludicrous to anyone with an internet connection and the inclination to trawl through his public statements and speeches.
It's arguable how much this matters on a grander economic scale: would a "Labour" boom and bust really be any better than a "Tory" boom and bust?
Brown has criticised what he sees as the components of Tory boom and bust, or more specifically bust - the high interest rates, the three million unemployed. As Labour never tires of telling us, things aren't as bad now as they were then. Or at least, they aren't yet.
But Brown's claim to the Mail just doesn't stand up. There have just been too many memorable references to the end of boom and bust - without any mention of Tory.
FactCheck rating: 4
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The lower end of the scale indicates that the claim in question largely checks out, while the upper end of the scale suggests misrepresentation, exaggeration, a massaging of statistics and/or language.
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Budget 2007 speech
Budget 2006 speech
Full text: Gordon Brown's conference speech 2004
Full text: Gordon Brown's conference speech 2005
British Chambers of Commerce speech
Pre-budget report 1997
Treasury select committee: minutes of evidence 18 July 2002 (cols230-242)
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